Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Reppert Can't Unsolve Calvinist Solutions to Problems of Evil

Reppert re-published an old post where he argues that Calvinism can't solve the problem of evil. There's not much to respond to since I already undercut or rebut his major premises. There's been no response as of yet. In any event, I'll offer a couple quick comments to some of his other complaints:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil.
3. But there is unnecessary evil.
4. Therefore God does not exist.

P3 is the problem. Victor would need to prove it. But then the conclusion would follow. So, Reppert doesn't believe P3. In fact, he thinks it is downright false. Thus, the argument is unsound. Why does Victor think an unsound argument is a problem for anyone, let alone a Calvinist? Perhaps Victor means, on the Calvinist's system, the argument goes through. But this is an internal critique, and so I get to pull from all my resources. I get to use all those nasty premises which go against the grain of Reppert's intuitions. So, internally, I'm fine.

"Now a lot of responses to the problem of evil employ two themes. One of those themes is that many evils in the world are not caused by God, but are the result of God's allowing creatures to act freely."

This is Reppert's defense. But this is just the greater good defense. The Calvinist can use a greater good defense.

And, what does Reppert mean that the evils are not "caused" by God? Reppert still must believe God allowed the world to be actualized, and if he hadn't, there wouldn't have been the evils. If Reppert knew that a NASCAR car had bad breaks, and a serious crash would occur if he let that car race, and he let that car race anyway, how is Reppert not a "cause" of the resultant evils?

And, on a Calvinist scheme, we employ dual causality where the agent is the actor who commits the sin, and that's all that's relevant. God didn't sin, the agent did.

I'd also point out that the classic evidential PoE argument is phrased as Bambi suffering in a forest fire. Say no human started the fire. Thus, no free will was involved. Thus, how does Victor's "free will defense" remove himself from dealing with the problem? Perhaps he will just admit that natural evils are not really evils. If so, then since the vast majority of philosophers who offer the argumentfrom evil do think the burning Bambi is an instance of evil, Victor can't make much more use out of his "intuition" arguments against Calvinism. Perhaps he will say "free will" was involved in Adam's choice to eat the fruit. If so, why is it moral for God to punish Bambi, or starving children in Africa for that matter, for something Adam did? The best resources here come from the Calvinist camp.

"If God makes us free to commit murder or not to commit murder, then God cannot guarantee that we not commit murder."

But if God knew at t1 God knew you would commit murder at t2, then how could you not have committed murder at t2? By causing God's infallible belief to be false? And, can we sin in heaven? Can God guarantee that we won't? Maybe someone will rape someone in heaven. Can Reppert guarantee that the won't? So in Reppert's heaven there is no guarantee that rape and murder will not occur.

"Second, some things that seem evil from a temporal, present-day perspective may not be evils from an eternal perspective."

The Calvinist can say this too (see my last post). And, to give criminals in God's universe their just deserts is not evil even from a temporal perspective; unless, of course, Reppert thinks it is evil to punish law-breakers.

"The problem with Calvinism is that on the Calvinistic view God sovereignly determines the outcome of every action."

He means, "the trouble with the God of the Bible is...." There's plenty of books, systematic theologies, exegesis, etc., that demonstrate this. How familiar is Reppert with them? How can he just assert that this is what Calvinism teaches? By doing that he is implicitly denying that the Bible teaches this. but I don't grant this premise of his. So it's an unargued premise. I don't stipulate it.

"Consider what philosopher Douglas Jesseph calls "The World of Mr. Rogers." In the world of Mr. Rogers, it's all a big happy neighborhood and everyone does what is right, and then go to heaven when they die. This world is obviously a better world than this one."

Who said that is better than this world? I think a redeemed world is better than one that never fell. I think a world where "greater love" is shown better than a world where it is not shown. "Greater love" shows itself in a man dying for his friends. In Christian theology, Jesus died because of sin. Evil. The curse. So, how could Mr. Roger's World WMR be better than Jesus' sin-sick world? In the former "greater love" does not get instantiated. Any world where "greater love" does not get instantiated isn't a better world than a world where it is instantiated. So, I just don't share Reppert's intuitions (I say as I pooch out my lips and shake my head back and forth).

"Just ask anyone who has gone to hell and see if they wouldn't prefer the World of Mr. Rogers."

Imagine a world where pedophiles get to violate children and earn no repercussion. or, imagine one where they get castrated.

Just ask pedophiles if they like the world where they get punished and see if they wouldn't prefer the world of flagrant violation.

It is telling that Reppert wants to poll law-breaking, God-hating, God's-people-hating sinners for what world is better.

And, Reppert shows us, again, his low view of sin. Sinners L-O-V-E their sin, Victor. They H-A-T-E God and his righteous ways. Therefore, they would not want God's holy, sinless world! Reppert think sinners in hell will be crying out for God to rescue them. Evincing regret for their actions. This is false. They will be maximally depraved. Their heart will be revealed for what it is when the sin-restraining power of common grace is removed. Sinners will want to stay in hell. This Pollyanna view of sinners has been repeated assumed by Victor in these dialogues, he has yet to defend it even though I have called him out on it repeatedly.

"The simple fact is that if Calvinism is true, then God could have created the World of Mr. Rogers, but sovereignly chose not to. Why?"

Because God wanted to show his mercy by saving sinners. There is no mercy shown in WMR. Because the Son wanted to show "greater love." Because a redeemed world is better than a fallen world. Because God is wiser than Victor. Because God is not a humanist. Because God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours. What Reppert would do if he were his straw man view of Calvin's God is a good indication that God wouldn't do it that way. Reppert isn't God. He's acting like John Loftus who says that if he were God he would have made us with wings so would wouldn't fall to our death and gills so we would drown.

The simple fact is that if Arminianism is true, then God could have created a world where people always do the right thing but do it with libertarian freedom. Does Reppert deny that God could do this? How so? And, if this kind of world is "boring" then he must say heaven is "boring too." If he resorts to compatibilism just for heaven, then how are we not robots in heaven? Do we freely worship God in heaven? Indeed, why is Victor's best world--heaven--a world where people have compatibilistic free will? Is compatibilism better than libertarianism? Then how can he appeal to libertarian free will as an escape from the problem of evil? What's so good about a good will that will get tossed like yesterday's trash?

"At this point it is possible to now appeal to human limitations, either limitations in human knowledge or in human goodness. Even though we can't see that this world is better than the WMR, it really is better, even though some people are damned in this world and no one is damned in WMR. I think these arguments from the limits of our knowledge have more force where the final outcome is unknown or inadequately understood. We know the final outcome in both worlds. Everyone is happy in the WMR and everyone gets saved. Many people suffer in our world and some are lost"

I deny that Victor "knows the outcome." He may know some outcomes, but how can he say he knows all of the outcomes? Especially when we're dealing with a Divine plan? How can Victor think he knows all the outcomes when he doesn't even know how God created a rat turd.

"Another way of replying is to present a version of Paul's rebuttal from the Book of Romans, "Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?" Now if this is a version of the argument from the limitations of our knowledge, which I think it is, then it has some value, but not on a Calvinistic scenario. If however, it is a way of simply dismissing the argument from evil, it is a transparently question-begging argument. The AfE questions whether there is a God, that is, a being omnisicent, omnipotent, and perfectly good, to answer back to. We cannot assume that such a being exists in order to eliminate the question as to whether or not an OOP being exists."

This is ridiculous. The AFE must allow the Christian to pull from all his resources. Indeed, the argument is supposed to be an internal critique. As William Lane Craig has stated:

"Since the problem is being presented as an internal problem for the Christian
theist, there is nothing illicit about the Christian theist's availing himself
of all the resources of his worldview in answering the objection."

And, we certainly can take all the resources of our position to bear on a problem. In his memorable address, Alvin Plantinga had this to say to Christian philosophers:

And my point here is this. The Christian philosopher is within his right in holding these positions, whether or not he can convince the rest of the philosophical world and whatever the current philosophical consensus is, if there is a consensus. But isn't such an appeal to God and his properties, in this philosophical context, a shameless appeal to a deus ex machina? Surely not. "Philosophy," as Hegel once exclaimed in a rare fit of lucidity, "is thinking things over." Philosophy is in large part a clarification, systematization, articulation, relating and deepening of pre-philosophical opinion.


So here again: my plea is for the Christian philosopher, the Christian philosophical community, to display, first, more independence and autonomy: we needn't take as our research projects just those projects that currently enjoy widespread popularity; we have our own questions to think about. Secondly, we must display more integrity. We must not automatically assimilate what is current or fashionable or popular by way of philosophical opinion and procedures; for much of it comports ill with Christian ways of thinking. And finally, we must display more Christian self-confidence or courage or boldness. We have a perfect right to our pre-philosophical views: why, therefore, should we be intimidated by what the rest of the philosophical world thinks plausible or implausible?


In still others the Christian will take for granted and will start from assumptions and premises rejected by the philosophical community at large.


Philosophy is many things. I said earlier that it is a matter of systematizing, developing and deepening one's pre-philosophical opinions. It is that; but it is also an arena for the articulation and interplay of commitments and allegiances fundamentally religious in nature; it is an expression of deep and fundamental perspectives, ways of viewing ourselves and the world and God. Among its most important and pressing projects are systematizing, deepening, exploring, articulating this perspective, and exploring its bearing on the rest of what we think and do. But then the Christian philosophical community has its own agenda; it need not and should not automatically take its projects from the list of those currently in favor at the leading contemporary centers of philosophy. Furthermore, Christian philosophers must be wary about assimilating or accepting presently popular philosophical ideas and procedures; for many of these have roots that are deeply anti-Christian. And finally the Christian philosophical community has a right to its perspectives; it is under no obligation first to show that this perspective is plausible with respect to what is taken for granted by all philosophers, or most philosophers, or the leading philosophers of our day.

In sum, we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.

For you see, we can appeal to that passage in Romans because we think that given our whole package, some problems don't even arise for us. So, I would argue that the AFE may question whether there is a "god" or not, but its questions don't apply to whether there is a "GOD" or not.

If the unbeliever comes to me and gives me the AFE as a reason for why I should not believe in God, then you can bet dollars to donuts that I will appeal to the Bible. Since I believe it is true, and for me it is evidence, evidence of the highest sort being the testimony from a person who cannot be wrong, then I sure can appeal to it.

If the unbeliever uses it as a reason for her not to believe, I will point out that it only gains force if it doesn't take into account that Christianity is true. Thus it only has force if the one who employs the argument assumes that the Christian story is false. So, they beg the question as well. Indeed, to say that there is "unnecessary evil" already assumes that what God has said---there is no unnecessary evil---is false. So, the atheist offers an argument that assumes the falsity of theism. i do not find Victor's point here convincing at all.

Lastly, I am answering Reppert and not an atheist. In our context of dialogue, then, I can certainly appeal to biblical texts! Reppert keeps jumping from pillar to post. Reppert does the same thing as I do when answering the atheist, too. He makes a move that God gave us "free will." But if there is no God, then there is no God to give us free will. So, Reppert's arguments remain entirely unconvincing to me, and even border on incoherence.

"But why would God want to give us any kind of free will other than the kind of free will that the compatibilist (and the Calvinist) is prepared to admit? The incompatiblist holds that human beings have the kind of freedom that is incompatible with our acting from a determining cause. If we sin, we could have done otherwise under the actual circumstances."

Well here, Reppert endorses Pelagianism. But this position has been condemned as heresy across denomination boundaries

Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418)

Council of Ephesus (431)

The Council of Orange (529)

Council of Trent (1546) (Roman Catholic)

2nd Helvetic (1561/66) 8-9. (Swiss-German Reformed)

Augsburg Confession (1530) Art. 9, 18 (Lutheran)

Gallican Confession (1559) Art. 10 (French Reformed)

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 15 (Lowlands, French/Dutch/German Reformed)

The Anglican Articles (1571), 9. (English)

Canons of Dort (1618-9), 3/4.2 (Dutch/German/French Reformed).


Reppert thinks it is possible for a mere human to go through life sinless.

Repperts attacks on Calvinism fail to find their mark, again.

I should also add that libertarian free will isn't without its philosophical (not to mention Scriptural) objections. For example, are his actions uncaused? How does he find belief in uncaused events rational? Or, are they self-caused? If so, how doe he answer the arguments from those like van Inwangen and Mele against agent causation? Arguments like the "luck" objection. Arguments from control and reliable mechanisms which lead to the conclusion that if an act is free then it is determined.


  1. This is just a side note I thought of while reading this, but could you guys do some just plain teaching stuff as well as rebuttals to people. The arguments are a great source to learn from but a regular "lesson" if you will could be nice, too. =)

  2. Lucas, here's a lesson: Don't use bad arguments on Calvinists.

    Also, if you search the archives, you'll note a plethora of "teaching" and "lesson" posts.

  3. Haha, that made me laugh.

    Thanks. I forgot about the archives. Woops!

  4. His syllogism includes the old canard of the "omnibenevolent God" which I have yet to find in Scripture, but in the arguments of many who think that this is the Achilles Heal of Calvinism.

    I think this rationalist premise is the source of going astray in many of these POE discussions. Moreover, he has set himself up as knowing archetypal theology as opposed to the ectypal theology of us mere humans.

  5. Hi David,

    Good points. I guess I'd have to see how he defines "omnibene", but the killer for him is P2, so I went with that.

    Btw, I saw that you are in the Ph.D. prgram TEDS. My friend is trying to get into the PH.D. program there also and he is taking some doctoral classes with Vanhoozer (and others) at the moment. You'd know him by his initials, J.K.? If you do, tell him I said hi.

  6. Seems to me that P2 is the weak link in the argument.

    1) How is unnecessary evil different from necessary evil?

    2) Who says there would be no evil? If it weren't for evil, how would we learn about grace and forgiveness?

  7. Archshrk,

    Unnecessary evil is superfluous evil. Necessary evil had to happen, unecessary evil didn't. No need for it. It's saying that there is no gratuitous evil.

  8. David,

    One more thing, Reppert says "perfectly good," not "onibenevolent." Thus if we grant that God is good, then since he is not imperfectly good, he must be perfectly good. This doesn't entail any suspect undersatnding of "omnibenevolent" that I can see.

  9. Paul,

    I finished my coursework in 2005 and have not been on campus in over a year, so I am sorry I don't know your friend. I am writing in Ohio these days, it seemed every time I'd go to the library it was a 3 hour conversation, but no it was more productive to do research away from campus.

    As to "perfect goodness" yes it is not omnibenevolent, yet it is still a weasel word that allows him to import his own meaning which again is him playing god as far as I am concerned