Friday, May 02, 2008

True Confessions

In the process of this lengthy debate with Victor Reppert, I have been trying to funnel his arguments into such a narrow gap that they would hardly be troublesome for the Calvinist (even on Reppert's terms).

Recently, I think Reppert made some candid confessions (though he'll have the opportunity to qualify at later dates).

There are just two I would like to focus on, but they both get straight to the heart of the matter. I'll post his statement, and then comment below them.


"First, the argument doesn't say that God is morally obligated to save humans."

But then what's the problem? This whole debate has had as its goal to undermine the Calvinist conception of God via some ethical defect in his character. It's really just been a take on the problem of evil argument (interesting that the number one argument by atheists against Christianity is the problem of evil, and the number one argument against Calvinism by other Christians is the problem of evil argument; any interesting links here?).

Victor has also been appealing to his moral intuitions. He has a "strong intuition" that a being who is the Calvinist God is an evil, immoral, unethical being. An "Omnipotent Fiend."

But what sense can be made of this? If S has no moral obligation to *, then why is S morally blameworthy for not *ing?

It appears Victor has sunk his battleship.


"I never went from noseeum to thereisnun. I just said that there the reasons for God's refusing to save people is completely obscure to me from the point of view of God's glory. An appeal to mystery is not a theodicy. "

[Background: The "noseeum" argument is that argument employed by atheists in giving the evidential argument from evil. That is, they acknowledge the logical argument is dead, and so now argue from evidences to alleged cases of gratuitous suffering. A paradigm case is Bambi suffering in a forest fire (this also assumes a certain view on natural evils which I do not hold, but I don't need to flesh that out for our purposes). The argument is that it appears that there could be no good reason, no God-justifying-good, for this case of evil. They acknowledge that what matters is not that one can't conceive of a God-justifying-good, but that there actually be no God-justifying-good. They then argue for a strong link between appearance and reality, that's the induction that makes this not the traditional "logical argument from evil." The Skeptical theists, mainly: Alston, Bergmann, Rea, and Wykstra, offer arguments to the effect that there is no warrant to move from what we see to any actuality, especially given certain assumptions of the Christian worldview, viz., Creator/creature distinction, doctrine of Incomprehensibility, our epistemic condition, the massively large and complex nature of an infinite God's plan, etc. This undercuts the "noseeum" argument. It makes more explicit the greater good defense. Gives you more to say than just that there is a greater good. This is an all-too-brief summary of the debates, but it should be enough for our purposes.]

First, I didn't just appeal to mystery. I also gave arguments that attempted to show that the appeal to unknown God-justifying goods was entailed by other Christian doctrine.

Second, if my argument was not a theodicy then neither are the arguments of Alston, Bergmann, Geivett, Helm, Plantinga,`Rea, Welty, and Wykstra. Where's Reppert's arguments against these top-notch Christian thinkers, who Victor respects and who are not (save 2) Calvinists

Third, Reppert seems unfamiliar with the standard literature. To grant my "thereisnun" point is to give me the argument. I further argued that Reppert's position as creature (and all the rest) gives him a defeater for thinking that his ken is sufficient to issue any indictment about God and any God-justifying-goods. As Victor Reppert has rightly noted in the past: "All I want to say is that the possibilities that occur to us humans from our own limited perspective probably do not exhaust all of God's options."

Fourth, what Victor's position has been reduced to, upon analysis borne out in our lengthy debate, is this: God has no moral obligation to redeem anyone out of the lump of sinful humanity, but I don't know why he would pass over one person and not the next. (I should note that I listed off 20 some odd "evils" that Victor doesn’t know "why" God allows them. I'll wait for his answer.)

At any rate, "Why did God do X over Y?", isn't an argument.

This is hardly a problem for the Calvinist. Indeed, going back to the earliest of our literature you will note that it has been us who first made this observation. In regards to preterition, we don't know why God passes over who he does. But as Victor noted, this isn't something we can lay any moral blame at his feet for.

At the end of the day, though, the real "why" question is this (and this presupposes a biblical and existential sense of just how dark and ugly sin is): Why would God save any of us?


  1. I haven't confessed anything or conceded anything, except for the sake of argument. My argument is this. On the hypothesis that what God is after is His own glory, then he should save all of us. Why? Because we're only going to praise him forever if he saves us. It isn't unjust for him to save us, since he does save at least some of us. The more people in the heavenly choir, the more laudits of glory (like turps of evil) he gets. If he sends those people to hell, he doesn't get the laudits of glory from those people since those people aren't praising him.

    This arguments isn't saying God wouldn't be nice if he damned people, it is saying that God's interests, *as defined by Calvinist theology* are not served by reprobation. In other words, God shouldn't condemn people to hell because it doesn't serve his own professed interests to do so. It's not that I object to the Calvinistic God's actions on moral grounds (I do of course, but I'm not discussing that here), but rather, I am arguing that even after all sorts of Calvinistic theological points are conceded, points that I am in real life not about to concede, you still don't get to Calvinism. A theology that says that God is out to maximize His own glory is a theology that heads straight for universalism more surely than a theology that says that what He is out to do is love his creatures. If love is the goal, then he might have to give them LFW, and then who knows what the hell will happen. If he's just going for glory, he can get more of that my saving everyone than by reprobating anyone. My claim here isn't that God's actions wouldn't be morally acceptable, my claim is that God's actions make no sense even if they were morally permissible.

    There is a difference between defense responses to the problem of evil and theodicy responses. Theodicies attempt to provide likley explanations for evils. The general consensus in the problem of evil literature seems to be that you should try to explain what you can, and then minimize the weight of what you can't explain by appealing to an expectation that we don't know all the reasons in play. As I see it, there is an epistemic cost involved in appealing to mystery and unknown or unknowable reasons, and so you want to bring that pitcher in as late in the game as possible. When I read books like Lewis's The Problem of Pain, I get the sense that I can understand why a lot of evils occur, including virtually all of them in my own life, but certainly not all evils. (The suffering of small children is one Lewis doesn't deal with, for example). When I look at it from a Calvinist perspective, it looks to me as if I have no clue why suffering exists, in this life and certainly not in the next life. The proffered explanations fail even on their own terms to make the ways of God intelligible. Is it possible to believe without understanding? Of course. But faith seeks understanding, and prefers theologies that hold out the most hope of providing some explanations.

  2. Okay, so "for the sake of argument" you have now confessed that Calvinism doesn't have a moral problem. The cash value is that "I don't know why God would do that." Sorry, that's not an *objection*, Victor.

    Did you want to take back what you granted "for the sake of argument," now?

    Both Steve and I answered your caricature of the "for his Glory" response. Interacting with us would be a good place to start. So, I fail to see how you think you've shown us that we don't have answers given our theology.

    Again, since God has all-glory, he doesn't get "more" glory. He's not like a bank where you can deposit "laudits" into.

    So you grant us premises that remove the fangs of your objection but you attribute to us premises that we don't even hold? Tricky, but once unveiled it's less than convincing.

    You haven't shown that God's interest aren't served in reprobation (and you still, for some reason, refuse to take into account the distinction I made regarding reprobation, why?). Indeed, you said that you weren't arguing from "noseeum" to "thereisnun." You *have to* show that "thereisnun."

    Your argument is also negated with respect to universalism. And you haven't shown that he "gets more glory" (dubious assumptions aside) by saving S than reprobating S*.

    Your claims about my theodicy (or defensive answer) don't work because your comments don't show that my answers don’t easily get around your objections. Even if it was a "last resort" (which its not), how does that affect whether I *in fact* answered you or not. If the answer works, it works. Your only come back is to say, "Tell me why." That's ridiculous, Victor. That's not an *argument.*

    Lastly, I listed off a whole bunch of evils you can't solve or tell me why they happened, even on your own scheme. And, quit saying that you look at things from a Calvinist perspective. You have shown time and time again that you can only offer straw men caricatures of Calvinism. I asked you to write a post defending and explaining the basics of Calvinism as far as the decrees go. Show us you understand it. Cause from where I'm sitting, you made your own Calvinism and attacked it. What else/ You never quote any Calvinists whatsoever. You always say, "Calvinists say," and we sit here and scratch our heads and wonder who these Calvinists are.

    I, for one, would like to see you, for once, interact with the arguments that both Steve and I have offered you. I mean, tell me now if you're just going to proceed by ignoring what we right and by attacking caricatures. I'll use my time for something else.

  3. Victor's argument's can be extrapolated to creation.

    God is free in creating the world.

    Likewise, he is free to create a new heart in whoever he pleases.

    Out of the sinful mass of humaninty, God is free to pass over S and to create a new heart in S*.

    Victor thinks its some big show stopper to ask, "But, but, I don't get why God passed over S and not S*. Tell me why. You have to tell me why!"

    To argue how Victor is, is to ask why God chose to pass over variosu possible worlds and create this one?

    Why did God pass over the one without Victor? Why? God could have made a Jimbo in place of Victor. Why didn't he? Why did he pass over instantiating Jimbo?

    If Victor can't tell me why, then atheists and Christians are justified to not believe in his version of theism!

    Silly argument? Et tu.

  4. Paul, it's time to stop confusing a setting aside an objection in order to focus on other problems with an admission that the objection is bad.

    So the damnation of the wicked is supposed to glorify God in the eyes of the blessed in heaven. It shows God recognizes the blackness of sin and his just hatred of it. But, once again, it looks as if God could simply make the blessed aware of this as a possible result without actually damning anyone. There is a downside for people in heaven in having a hell and that is where people in heaven cared deeply about the salvation of those who were lost and had a lifelong desire for their salvation. Of course God can make the blessed "get over it" and praise God forever, but there is still a loss inflicted on the caring blessed. Why inflict that loss, unless there is a good reason for it?

    I did read this account of "glory" which I note

    PM: God doesn’t need people to praise him. That’s not the point. It’s not for his own benefit. Rather, it’s for their own benefit to appreciate what is ultimately and truly praiseworthy.

    VR: Well, OK, how does God's damning people benefit the blessed in heaven. Well, I suppose the response is that since these people deserve it, it's a praiseworthy act which the blessed can recognize as praiseworthy. OK, but the opposite act, saving these people, would also have been just and equally praiseworthy.

    There are, I take it three stages to reprobation. First, God creates the person in sin. Then, God refuses the person the grace of salvation. Then God damns the person as just punishment for their sin. Step 2, which is what differentiates the saved from the lost, is an inaction on God's part. But at the end of the day God has provided sufficient conditions for that person to sin their way into hell. They act virtuously if God decrees that they act virtuously, they sin if God decrees that they sin (or fails to decree that they receive the grace to avoid sin), and they go to hell if God decrees that they go to hell. I don't see where these distinctions change the bottom line.

    Why does a failure to explain this cause a problem? First, the loss of a soul imposes a loss on those close to them, and, if we take some passages of Scripture literally, on God himself. God grieves and sorrows over sin, apparently. We're not just asking "Why did God create Jimbo and not Victor" we are asking why God did something that imposes a loss on those who care about them. It seems we should prefer positions that offer something in the direction of an explanation over positions that offer nothing. If you have one scientific theory that says "I have no idea why there are gaps in the fossil record" and someone else says "I have a way of telling you how they got there" the second theory has an advantage.

  5. There's a difference between moral obligation, and obligation dictated by nature.

    I'm not morally obligated to bail my son out of jail, but my nature of loving my son dictates that I will do so.

  6. Hopefully Seraphim's son doesn't turn a blood-thirsty muderer who will kill the moment he is bailed out. Yikes! All in the name of "wuv", I guess.

    Victor, I just went ahead and responded to you here:

  7. "Hopefully Seraphim's son doesn't turn a blood-thirsty muderer who will kill the moment he is bailed out. Yikes!"

    Just as well I don't subscribe to the snow-covered dung theory of redemption then.

  8. I think that's a fine example of ignoratio elenchi.