Monday, July 03, 2006

A Pseudo-Calvinistic Syllogism


A Calvinistic Syllogism

1. You should not trust or believe what a totally depraved person says.
2. If it is true that a Calvinist is totally depraved...
3. You should not trust or believe what a Calvinist says.

If this one point of Calvinism is true (total depravity), then you cannot trust or believe Calvinism. Calvinism is, therefore, self-defeating.

In order to deny this logical syllogism, you have to either 1. believe that you should trust or believe what a totally depraved person says (i.e., go to the local looney bin for advice and information), which is self-evidently absurd, or 2. believe that depravity is not total, which denies one of the key tenants of Calvinism and is therefore self-defeating of Calvinism anyway.


You know, it really wouldn’t hurt if just occasionally the critic of Calvinism were to actually acquaint himself with the system of doctrine he’s about to critique before he launches into a public attack.

This isn’t doing us a favor. This is doing himself a favor.

It’s as if slaveonone looked up “depravity” in Webster’s dictionary, then looked up “total,” then deduced the content of the doctrine from these dictionary definitions, then knocked off this cute little syllogism to disprove Calvinism in one fell swoop.

But theological terms are terms of art. Here are some representative statements of what total depravity means in Reformed theology”

“This phrase is often misunderstood, and therefore calls for careful discrimination. Negatively, it does not imply: (1) that every man is as thoroughly depraved as he can possible become; (2) that the sinner has no innate knowledge of the will of God, nor a conscience that discriminates between good and evil; (3) that sinful man does not often admire virtuous character and actions in others, or is incapable of disinterested affections and actions in his relations with his fellow-men; nor (4) that every unregenerate man, will, in virtue of his inherent sinfulness, indulge in every from of sin; it often happens that one form exclusive the other. Positively, it does indicate: (1) that the inherent corruption extends to every part of man’s nature, to all the faculties and powers of both soul and body; and (2) that there is no spiritual good, that is, good in relation to God, in the sinner at all, but only perversion,” L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 246-47.

“If human depravity is thought of as being only partial—that is, if fallen man is conceived of as still having the ability to turn to God in faith apart from a special working of the Holy Spirit—regeneration will be understood in a way quite different than if ‘natural’ (or unregenerate) human nature be though of as totally depraved. If, however, human beings are seen as being totally or pervasively deprived—that is, as totally unable to turn to God in faith apart from a special working of the Spirit—one’s understanding of the nature of regeneration will be different still,” A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Eerdmans 1989), 94.

“Negatively…inability does not deny the possibility of justitia civilis, that is natural and social virtue. Positively…it is inability to discern, love, or choose the things that are well pleasing to God,” J. Murray, Collected Writings 2:83.

“Does total depravity of nature mean that an unsaved person cannot do anything good? No. The unsaved person, by God’s common grace (or restraining power), can do things that are good within the civil or human sphere. For example, an unsaved person may save another from drowning, at the risk of his own life. But the unsaved person can do nothing that is spiritually good, that is, nothing truly good and pleasing in God’s sight. He may do things that are good in themselves, but he never does them with the right motive, namely, to love, serve, and please God; therefore even the ‘good' works of the unsaved person are spoiled and corrupted by sin,” J. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (P&R 2002), 61.

So there are two fundamental errors in slaveofone’s syllogism:

1.The major premise is flatly false.

Total depravity does not imply that the reprobate or unregenerate are either invariably or ordinarily untrustworthy.

2.Even if the major premise were true, the minor premise is flatly false. A Calvinist is regenerate, not unregenerate. And the noetic effects of sin are not the same for regenerate and unregenerate alike.

In particular, spiritual inability does not obtain in a state of grace.

Hence, slaveofone’s syllogism, even if it were formally valid, yields a false conclusion due to a false major syllogism and a false minor syllogism.

But such paltry defects aside, it’s a masterpiece of logical deduction!


  1. I understand your objection to the first premise:

    Total depravity does not imply that the reprobate or unregenerate are either invariably or ordinarily untrustworthy.

    But, wouldn't you say that the unregenerate or reprobate are untrustworthy about matters of spiritual importance, as a general rule? Certainly they may speak the truth but the truth can't be properly understood except as made possible through the work of God. I'm not going to go to a Buddhist or a Muslim or any other non-believer regarding matters of belief, even if they speak the truth at times, I would regard them as inherenly untrustworthy due to their unregenerate state.

  2. The more self-consciously un-Christian an unbeliever is, the less reliable he is.