Sunday, July 02, 2006

Calvinism explains everything

Loftus seems to think he has a knockdown argument against Calvinism:

“Too much explanatory power? No observation or fact which it cannot explain? What does this mean when applied to Calvinism?”

Given a choice, I prefer a worldview with “too much” explanatory power to a worldview with either too little explanatory power or none at all (atheism).

“Take for instance their whole notion of a completely sovereign God. God does everything…everything. There is no room for human causation…none.”

Demonstrably false. Confessional Calvinism subscribes to a doctrine of primary and secondary causality. Cf. WCF 3:1; 5:2-3.

“Now what reason does God have for punishing human beings on earth in hurricanes, and fires, and diseases like the Spanish Influenza which killed millions of people, and then later sending us to hell when we die? Well, the offered reason is because we have sinned.”

A palpable overstatement. Calvinism does not say that every victim of natural disaster was being punished for his sins. A natural disaster does not represent divine judgment on every individual victim. The pious as well as the impious are swept away in natural disasters.

“This Calvinistic God also has two wills, one revealed in the Bible and a secretive one…the real one…that decrees the things we actually do. But both wills cannot be true at the same time.”

i) Partly true, but trivial, since Loftus is trading on an equivocation of terms. God does not literally have two different wills. The distinction between his decretive will and his preceptive will, while conceptually sound, is a linguistic convention.

His preceptive “will” is simply a synonym for the law of God.

ii) Partly false. Both the decretive and the preceptive will of God are revealed in Scripture. That’s how we know about them in the first place.

Scripture reveals the existence of his decretive will, as well as disclosing the general content of his decretive will.

“If the Bible says, ‘thou shalt not kill,’ and then God secretively decrees both the desire to kill and actually takes a man’s hand and causes the arm to swing an ax to split another man’s head, there is a contradiction in what God actually wants us to do. Does God want this man to kill or not? The contradiction is resolved for the Calvinist because she will say that God’s secretive will is his true will. But this means that, on Calvinistic grounds, the Bible is full of lies and cannot be trusted when it tells us what God wants us to do.”

i) This fails, as before, to distinguish between primary and secondary agency.

ii) It also fails to distinguish between ends and means.

The law of God serves more than one purpose. In some cases is restrains sin. In other cases, it exposes the inexcusable character of sin.

God wills both results, but he doesn’t will both results for one and the same party at one and the same time.

God does not will things in isolation, as if his attitude towards the means is irrespective of his attitude towards the end which they subserve.

Since the reprobate don’t believe in either his preceptive or decretive will, they have no trust which can be betrayed.

Conversely, the believer can never go wrong by trusting in either the preceptive or the decretive will of God.

“If we say that such a God does not care for us and is only interested in himself, the Calvinist will respond that he has a moral right to be concerned with his own glory over anyone else's since he alone deserves all the glory.”

This is simplistic. The elect are glorified in the glory of God. They glory in God, and they are the beneficiaries of his manifest mercy.

“As far as the Calvinist knows, God’s secretive will may be that they should be deceived about Calvinism. Based on their own theology they have no reason to trust God…none. God may be leading them astray, based upon his secretive will, only to cast them in hell for his own glory, and he may turn around and reward those of us who are atheists, simply because he secretively decreed us into unbelief.”

This builds on Loftus’ false antithesis between what is revealed in Scripture and what is concealed.

God’s decretive will is, itself, a revealed truth. For God to consign the elect to hell and the reprobate to heaven would contract the revelation of his decretive will.

For example, God has revealed that “whoever endures to the end will be saved.” This is a promise that God has both revealed and decreed.

“The Calvinist answer is that everything God does is good, even if we cannot understand it. So every instance of human suffering that any human being has ever experienced was and is good.”

This is simplistic on a couple of grounds:

i) We do know in general why God foreordained the fall (e.g. Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22).

So it’s not as if we’re completely in the dark. It’s not an utter enigma.

What we don’t know is why God decrees any particular evil.

ii) As for every instance of suffering being good, that’s ambiguous. Good for whom? Good for what? It’s not always good for the victim. Suffering is not intended to be beneficial for the reprobate.

But it is good for the elect. It is good in the furtherance of a higher good.

“Why does a Calvinist think anyone...anyone...should trust their God? Why? What reasons are there for trusting such a God? There are none…none…not on Calvinistic grounds, for reasons I just specified.”

The unspoken assumption in every attack leveled by Loftus on the Christian faith is that Christian faith is simply a matter of opinion. We believe, but we don’t know.

So it’s always a matter of weighing the evidence and the counterevidence in the balance. If he can muster just enough atheological arguments, then that will tip the scales in the direction of unbelief.

But this confuses experience with apologetics. In doing apologetics, a Christian apologist cannot use the argument from experience since he is addressing an outsider.

So he limits himself to common ground arguments. And that’s part of his own reason for being a believer.

Yet this is not the only reason. It’s merely the only publicly accessible reason available to believer and unbeliever alike.

But, for a true believer, the reality of God is an undeniable datum of consciousness. It is something that he intuitively apprehends, which is further confirmed by God’s providence in his life.

For him, the existence of God is one thing, and the problem of evil is another. No doubt they’re related in some way. But the existence of evil no more disproves the existence of God than one existential truth disproves another existential truth.

I might as well try to deny my belief in other minds, or my personal memories, or the tree I see outside my bedroom window.

The belief is spontaneous and irrepressible. My awareness of God is inseparable from my self-awareness.

Even if that stood in a state of intellectual tension with something else I equally believe, both beliefs would retain their steadfast hold on my instinctual and indubitable perception of the world.

“So, since this is the case, I can look at the amount of suffering in this world and reasonably conclude there is no good God.”

Not only is this a fallacious inference from Calvinism, it’s an equally fallacious inference from atheism:

i) Loftus needs to come up with a version of secular ethics that can justify his moral repugnance.

ii) And even if he succeeded in (i), he also needs to come up with a secular anthropology that can ascribe sufficient dignity or even mentality to human beings to justify his moral repugnance.

I have never seen him attempt to discharge either burden of proof. But maybe he can refer us to something he’s posted on the subject.

9 comments:

  1. I appreciate a calm discussion rather than one that belittle's one another. Thanks for that.

    God’s decretive will is, itself, a revealed truth. For God to consign the elect to hell and the reprobate to heaven would contract the revelation of his decretive will.

    Let's say I go to hell when I die. Did God want me the end up there, or not?

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  2. "Let's say I go to hell when I die. Did God want me the end up there, or not?"

    Short answer: yes, he did.

    However, God doesn't damn anyone for the hell of it (pardon the pun).

    He doesn't damn anyone for the sake of damnation.

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  3. Steve, this is the God YOU worship? He damns me for his glory? Can you step back from this and see this belief for what it really is? A God like that isn't worthy of worship. A God like that makes atheists out of those of us who see it for what it really is. But who are we to answer back to God, you'll say. You explain everything...and nothing.

    This fails, as before, to distinguish between primary and secondary agency.

    ii) It also fails to distinguish between ends and means.


    Now tell me this Steve, does God also make me desire to reject him so that I will go to hell? Where exactly is this thing called secondary causation? And what do you think of the ethical principle of the means justifying the ends? I'll suppose you reject it. Yet, your God does this with us.

    Kant argued that we should never use people as a means to an end. using people like this is done around the globe by regimes who imprison and torture political prisoners for the good of the regime.

    Your God is entitled to have a diametrically opposed ethical system because he's God, right? You explain everything...and nothing.

    God's goodness is judged by a totally different standard than our standard of goodness. What then does it mean to say God is good, when you say it? You explain everything...and nothing.

    For those who want to read for themselves what I wrote see here"

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  4. He damns me for his glory?

    Actually, he damns you for His sin. This glorifies God. For you to charge God with violating His goodness, you have to show that this condemnation is unjust. For once, demonstrate, from Scripture, that the condemnation of some in their sin is unujust.

    Now tell me this Steve, does God also make me desire to reject him so that I will go to hell? Where exactly is this thing called secondary causation?

    It's called a necessary v. a sufficient condition. A decree merely makes an end certain. Your sin supplies the sufficient condition. The ends are decreed, but so are the ends. The means would be, in this case to (a) leave you alone and let you do your own thing, or (b)judicially harden you consequent to your sin. How is the first unjust for the Arminian (the one to whom Steve first addressed his article). Isn't the entire Arminian scheme set up for God to honor men's free choices? If the ends decreed to God's decreed ends is to leave you on your own anyway, how is this offensive? Isn't that what Arminianism is set up for God to respect? Second, if God has judicially hardened you, allowed you to be deceived, etc. as a consequence of your sins, then how is this unjust? I'd also add that Scripture teaches that it is often via His mercy that He hardens, like all those years you spent in seminary.

    Does God put fresh evil in you? No. Did God create you evil? Well, let's see, since by your sin you agree with Adam, then you are guilty of his sin, per Ezekiel, so the imputation of Adam's guilt to you is justified, since you agree with what Adam did.

    If God blinds you to the gospel, and you are already condemned for your sin, where is the injustice in this? You act as if you somehow deserve God's mercy. Apparently, you think that salvation is a form of remunerative justice. Is this what you learned under Dr. Craig?

    His decrees, through either action or inaction render events necessary, but, evil is the result of permission, not His direct causation, or a result of His judicial hardening of sinners, an act of justice Scripture supports repeatedly, as in the above text and in Romans 1. Nothing happens that compels a man or demon to act in a way it does not wish to act or against its nature. You are a willing participant, John. Men thus do what God decrees, but for motives all their own. In so doing, they may incur judgment. In this way men act as infallibly as if they had no liberty, yet as freely as if there was no decree rendering their acts certain. See, for example, the predestination of Judas betrayal and Jesus crucifixion. These men did, with evil desires, what God desired and planned to happen since before creation, for Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world itself.

    Why not just read the confessions first? When you made your comment about secondary causation it was abundantly obviously you had never bothered to read the WCF or the LCBF2.

    Here's the LCBF2:Yet he has done this in such a way that God is neither the author of sin, nor does he share with anyone in sinning, nor does this violate the will of the creature, nor is the free working or contingency of second causes taken away but rather established.

    Now, you could try to hold God guilty by saying that He decrees your nature, but that decree would be that your nature is simply decreed in the likeness of Adam in his fallen state, a consequence of the violation of the Adamic covenant (or the Antidiluvian Covenant, depending on the terminology). So, the question is this: within the narrative structure of the text of Scripture, and assuming, for the sake of argument, that there was such a covenant, if you had been Adam prior to the fall, would you really have made a different decision? The biblical answer is "No."

    So, you might impugn God for decreeing the fall. However, that overlooks the way the Confession is framed: that God permitted it, not that He put fresh evil in men's heart to accomplish it.

    Again: he almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, are so far expressed in his providence, that his sovereign purposes extend even to the first fall and all other sinful actions of angels and human beings. This is not merely by a bare permission, for he most wisely and powerfully limits and by other means arranges and governs sinful actions, so that they bring about his own holy purposes. Yet [in all this] the sinfulness of these actions comes entirely from the creature, and not from God, who is altogether holy and righteous neither is he nor can he be the author or approver of sin.

    Also, this was originally framed by Steve as a rejection of Arminianism / libertarian action theory. So:

    A. Libertarian action theory cuts the causal nerve. Why is this preferrable?

    B. Arminianism itself still has God decreeing the fall. Surely you remember this:

    Create
    Permit fall
    Provide salvation for all
    Call all to believe
    Elect those who believe to salvation

    Ergo, Arminianism still must contend with this same problem. Why is the free will defense a better solution if it cuts the causal nerve? In fact, it is much more difficult for libertarian action theory to demonstrate that it is preferable. In Arminianism God is said to love all people redemptively. Why then does He create some for destruction and others for salvation? Why do some never hear the gospel? Calvinism can provide a reason they are created and a reason they are condemned. Arminianism can simply provide no answer for these questions. Arminianism and atheism are on nearly the same explanatory footing here, given libertarian action theory underwriting both. For you, we're just products of evolution and there is no reason at all for our existence. How exactly is this preferrable to Calvinism?

    Kant argued that we should never use people as a means to an end. using people like this is done around the globe by regimes who imprison and torture political prisoners for the good of the regime.

    A. God is the giver of life, which one of those condemned by God is not a sinner guilty before Him?

    B. Which of those condemned by God would have chosen other than Adam?

    C. Those regimes are not the giver of life.

    D.Why moralize, John? You're the one that puts morals on sliding scale. Why is Kant the judge of what is morally right or wrong?

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  5. If Kant's John's heror then he has some problems.

    The categorical imperative can be gotten around by crafty fellows, i.e.,

    "All those with these sets of fingerprints (mine) can steal."

    Now, this can be universalized (and I'm the only member in the class) and not reslut in a contradiction, per Kant's requirements. ;-)

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  6. His decrees, through either action or inaction render events necessary, but, evil is the result of permission, not His direct causation, or a result of His judicial hardening of sinners, an act of justice Scripture supports repeatedly, as in the above text and in Romans 1. Nothing happens that compels a man or demon to act in a way it does not wish to act or against its nature. You are a willing participant, John. Men thus do what God decrees, but for motives all their own. In so doing, they may incur judgment. In this way men act as infallibly as if they had no liberty, yet as freely as if there was no decree rendering their acts certain. See, for example, the predestination of Judas betrayal and Jesus crucifixion. These men did, with evil desires, what God desired and planned to happen since before creation, for Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world itself.

    This is what I referred to as logical gerrymandering. What does it mean for a Calvinist to say that something happens by God's permission? And who created us with the nature that we have? Could we have done otherwise, yes or no? Maybe I had a nature formed by the Christian morals that was on the whole good. But God had sovereignly decreed that I should reject Christianity. So to make sure the decree happened it took more causation on his part to direct me to the position I am now at as an atheist. Others may have been much easier for him to lead into the rejection of Christianity. I actually went kicking against the goads, so to speak. I fought it extremely hard, but that you may not acknowledge. Yes, the end result is that I now reject the gospel. But I did not want to do so, and again, of that you may not acknowledge. God needed to basiclly harden my heart, like Pharoah, for me to turn away from him, because I loved him with all that I had in me, and of that you may not acknowledge. In the end God was responsible for turning me away from him because I did not want to.

    Now you will no doubt reject what I just said. But it's the truth. Did God permit me to reject him, or did he cause me to reject him. What difference does it make. I did want he wanted me to do. The end result will always be done.

    God could just as easily have taken an evil person and set roadblocks in his way, and introduce him into goldy thinking, and brought him to believe kicking against the goads of his own nature. And that's what you believe about such a person.

    Such a theology explains everything...and nothing.

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  7. On the Glory of God. A monarch is glorified when a rebel meets his just reward. Why is it that when a traitor was executed on Tower Hill or at Tyburn, this was done publicly? Why, it was to show the glorious justice of the King.

    When there was doubt, when the execution was felt to be unjust, the victim was executed in private, for example, Lady Jane Grey. And when the great King of Glory returns, all rebels will be punished publicly, which punishment will bring Glory to the King.

    Ah, I'm in an Early Modern mood today...

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  8. As has been said by finer minds, we are acting freely when our desires line up with our actions. Who gave us our desires?

    Is it necessary that we have the desires we have? Is there some rule that God needed to follow?

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