Saturday, May 03, 2008

Helm, on Piper, on Wright

Paul Helm discusses John Piper's book on N.T. Wright.

Watch your step!

One of the things that’s become increasingly clear in responding to Reppert’s critique of Calvinism is that our theological differences are symptomatic of a different underlying conception of what it means to be a Christian believer. It has less to do with Reformed distinctives than with a difference in theological method, of which our Reformed distinctives are—in this respect—a side-effect.

Reppert’s faith is one part revelation to nine parts speculation. A house of faith made of matchsticks.

This is, in large part, because Reppert has a very ambivalent attitude towards the Bible. On the one hand he can’t quite get along without it. At a minimum, he needs a reasonably accurate life of Christ. One or more of the four gospels must be close to the truth.

On the other hand, other parts of the Bible are a drag on his faith. He doesn’t believe certain parts of the Bible.

So, for him, the Bible is, by turns, friend and foe. He can’t dispense with Scripture entirely, but too much Scripture is hazardous to his faith. The incredible parts threaten to swamp the credible parts.

Speaking for myself, I’d find it unnerving, not to say a bit terrifying, to have such a honeycombed faith. Having to tiptoe over the cracked pavement of the Bible, lest I put just a tad too much weight on one square—only to watch it cave in beneath me. One false step and down he goes!

Providing Clarification for Reppert

In this post, Victor Reppert asked for some clarification. Ask and you shall receive.

Steve Hays gave some answers. He wrote,

"This is simpleminded. God would be just in damning everyone *because* everyone is a sinner. The justice of this counterfactual is indexed to a necessary condition. God would be just in saving everyone *if* Christ died for everyone. The justice of that counterfactual is indexed to a necessary condition. The justice of the outcome is not irrespective of other relevant factors.

If God damned the innocent, that would be unjust. If God saved sinners apart from penal substitution, that would be unjust."
This answers Reppert. I'd like to make a couple related observations, similar and complementing.

"How could God possibly be unjust?"

Not punish sin. Let the guilty go without punishment whatsoever.

"What could it turn out that God has done that could be identified as unjust, given the fact that God is the creator and we are creatures."

One example would be: After the Apostle Paul dies, faces judgment, God sends the Apostle Paul to hell.

One of the things you're not taking into account (well, there's many things not being taken into account, reading some of our systematics books on the decrees would help), is the Reformed emphasis on covenant theology and the corollary of federal headship theology.

Your questions are really just a spin off the old debate with voluntarists (and caricatures of reformed thought) regarding the question: God could send the Virgin Mary to hell. After all, his sovereignty is such that he does what he does, and its right no matter what.

The answer came back, "No." God is bound by his covenant. This covenant spans back to the decree to save some of the lost. The are also judged according to covenant conditions. The covenant of works.

You also mentioned that Calvinist exegetes "trivialize Scripture." I'd love to see your analysis of "Calvinist exegetes" and how they trivialize scriptural claims. Which ones did you have in mind? Page numbers?

"I Don't Get God"

"You don't get God?" I'll alert the media.

I was going to respond to Victor Repper't comments in the meta of my last post to him, in the meta. But, it got too long and so I figured to make it into a post.

I see that Steve Hays also responded to Reppert.

VR: 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.

PM: I don't think I am. But when you not only "set it aside", but then *grant* me the point, and I use it, then you can't minimize the argument by saying you just were granting the point. If you don't like that it answers your problems, don't grant the point. When you say there's no moral obligation for God to not pass over some sinner, then we're not even arguing in the same ballpark as the rest of your posts.

You had wrote: QUOTE: “I am simply arguing that whatever glory God wants or needs he can accomplish without inflicting eternal punishment on anyone. Therefore, even granting several Calvinistic assumptions, eternal damnation remains an apparently gratuitous evil.” UNQUOTE

But something you "granted" was that God was under no *moral* obligation to save anyone. So how is it a gratuitous evil? Your "grantings" ruined your argument. To say there is no greater good in reprobation runs into my greater good counter theodicy that is attended by skeptical theist arguments.

VR: So the damnation of the wicked is supposed to glorify God in the eyes of the blessed in heaven .

PM: God's not the beneficiary. God glorifies us. The objective is the effect it has on us as we glory in God's character (his various attributes).

VR: But, once again, it looks as if God could simply make the blessed aware of this as a possible result without actually damning anyone.

PM: I don't know if you're using term appropriately. God's damning is his condemning sinners to hell for their sins. Actual people committed actual capital crimes, and God actually justly punishes them.

And, why treat God as the machines in the Matrix? Implanting false images without correspondence to reality.

God's damning of the reprobate shows final and settled judgment on sin. Reveals God's utter holiness. Shows his justice. Reveals his mercy.

Is the implanting of thoughts of people in hell all that better, Victor?

What are you talking about? Implanting the belief that God punishes sinners, without doing it?

Furthermore, God obviously thought this way the best way. God likes reality better than fiction. Truth is better (and sometimes stranger) than fiction.

If Jesus' death represents the wrath of God against sin, and God's wrath on sin at the end of redemptive history can be satisfied by implanting images in people mind, couldn't God have sent down an illusion in Jesus? People would then see and read about an illusion, but the net effect was that no one was actually injured.

So, spell this objection out.

VR: 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?

PM: If you're not a Universalist, then you can't use this objection, Victor. Quit playing the disinterested armchair philosopher. You don't get to jump to Universalism, and then Lewis' hell any time you please.

Furthermore, Revelation 21 and 22 tell us there is no downside. No sadness. No curse. So if I take *all* of what the Bible tells me, then I know your answer is false. I don't know how the details will all work out, though.

But since neither you or I have been there, it's beyond our ken.

Paul went there, though. And I believe Paul believed in hell. And Paul said heaven was so grand he couldn't even describe it. He didn't come back and mope because (say) Hymenaeus wasn't there.

And, there *is* a good reason for it. We've been over this, though.

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.

PM: I don’t know about "equally." Did you use "glorification calculus" to figure that out?

And, God has many attributes. His glory is a summary of all the attributes. He manifests his glory "cross attributianlly". You just nuked one of the attributes' manifestation.

Revealing your holiness, justice, wrath, and settled disposition to sin is not numerically identical with revealing your mercy and love in saving the elect so that if you did more on the one side and less on the other you have the same net total. But if you want to show your work, I'll take a look at the "glorification calculus."

VR: 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.

PM: I totally disagree with your phrasing of (1). But perhaps you *mean* something different than how it appears. So, you can rephrase it. I take it that you mean by (2) "preterition" and by (3) you mean "condemnation." That's fine.

VR: 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.

PM: Step 2 is *part* of what differentiates the saved from the lost.

I also disagree with your second sentence and have touched on this point in 4 or 5 of my responses to you. The decree is the *plan*. *It* doesn't cause anything.

Perhaps you'll want to clarify yourself, but at face value, I have your *caricature* of Calvinism and then the *Calvinist's* own words on the other:

"However, to knowingly and willingly permit an action is not to cause that action; it is to provide necessary but not sufficient causal condition for the action" (Helm , Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, p.180, emphasis mine).

The Reformed have always made distinctions between primary and secondary causality; proximate and remote causes, etc.

VR: 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.

PM: All Reppert’s doing is trying to invoke the straw man "puppet" or "robot" picture in people's minds. He has no desire to seriously and charitably interact with Reformed philosophers and theologians.

VR: 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.


i) On your view, if you're not a Universalist or an open theist (which you said you're not), you have the same problem! God knew who would go to heaven and who would go to hell. He knew that some people would go to hell. Since those people didn't spontaneously pop into existence, they have family. Since many of them are friendly and live amongst the population, they have friends. So, they have friends and family. Some of their friends and family will go to heaven. God therefore knew that his bringing those people about would create "loss" for those friends and family of the lost, in heaven.

ii) I have told you, God did it for a good reason.

At this point, you're only counter is: "But what's the good reason?"

And it is at this point that your *objection* reduces to a *question.* An interesting question, but as far as the *objection* goes, if there *is* a good reason (and I have argued at length that I am justified in believing that there is), then there is no *objection.*

All you're left with is a question.

Okay, I posed a bunch to you:

Why did God allow children to be molested? That creates a "loss." Or, why did he not allow just *one* less than how ever many eventually will take place?

Why doesn't he turn bullets to soft, fluffy cotton when they are about to murder an innocent person? That wouldn't affect free will, and the intent would still be there, so sin and need of atonement would still exist.

Why didn't God just create the people he knew would believe in him? Why not create those he knew would chose eternal hell.

Why did God create Satan when he knew what would happen?

Victor, *questions* aren't defeaters to positions. And you have the same amount, well, more so, of unanswered questions as I do. Not only that, you have a God who, if he is not in control of sin, governing it and all events, is not in control of his creation. And how can you have any certainty that he will vanquish evil if he is not in control of it? The God of Calvinism sets the limits. Whatever happenes comes to pass because he so wills it. In regards to evil, he willingly permits it. Like with the waves of the ocean, he says "This far and no farther." It seems like you want to distance God's responsibility and control ofevil so much that you have some kind of ultimate dualism.

And, how do you have a trustworthy God? That's a relational attribute. It's not exemplified unless some claims are put on the line. That's revelation. And you believe in salvation through Jesus because you read the Bible. But, if the agents had libertarian freedom, how did God ensure the end result--a trustworthy, inerrant text? How could he control the agents to say what he wanted them to say? Besides that, how about the copiers? Your position ends you in worse skepticism than (you think) mine does.

This is especially so considering the *Christian* worldview which *entails* a secret council and plan of God that the creature has no access to.

Reformers have always placed eternal election and preterition inside the *secret* council of God.
So, our view *entails* that we're outside our ken on this one.

And at *this point* all the arguments of Alston, Bergman, Howard-Snyder, Rea, Wykstra, et al. follow nicely.

Reppert confuses his *question* with an *objection.* He thinks saying "Idongetit" when faced with this situation, is an *objection.*

But Bergmann,

[An] aspect of [this] inference should make us wary. ...[I]t takes 'the insights attainable by finite, fallible human beings as an adequate indication of what is available in the way of reasons to an omniscient, omnipotent being." But this is like supposing that when you're confronted with the activity or productions of a master in a field in which you have little expertise, it is reasonable for you to draw inferences about the quality of her work just because you 'don't get it.' You've taken a year of high school physics. You're faced with some theory about quantum phenomena, and you can't make heads or tales of it. Certainly it is unreasonable for you to assume that more likely than not you'd be able to make sense of it" (Bergman & Snyder, Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, p. 18-19).
But, I go further. Their analogies were between *creatures* and not between creatures and a *sui generis* Creator who has infinite wisdom and has positively revealed to us that this very issue belongs to the secret council of God!

I also employ your own words: "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."

And C.S. Lewis' words: "Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either."

VR: It seems we should prefer positions that offer something in the direction of an explanation over positions that offer nothing.

PM: As we've seen, time and time again, you don't have answers. To say, "Because God wanted to give us freedumb" isn't an answer. It's not even as good as: "For the manifestation of his glory, and sundry other reasons which all add up to: for a greater good."

I also pointed out that you have mystery when it comes to two main essentials of your faith. The Trinity and the Incarnation. On your rationalist method, the Modalists and the Docetists offer something more preferable over your position! You just let all my counter-arguments--which really have been showing the arbitrariness of your own arguments--slip off the radar, hoping they'll be undetected. Your posts have served as excellent examples of how to employ self-excepting fallacies in a sophistic way.

And, it's a little less than uncharitable to say, "I've given *nothing*"; especially when you haven’t interacted in any serious way with any prominent Reformed thinker, let alone me.

VR: 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.

PM: Hmmm, the second theory means diddly if it is *false.* If the second theory was: "Because the invisible fossil monster arbitrarily eats certain links," then if you want to pound your chest and declare that you have a "theory" and the other guy doesn't, be my guest.

Also, I told you the theory. You want to know all the *details.*

I also don't treat all of this as some arm chair theorizing. As I Christian, I go to revelation. And this is perfectly acceptable.

You also are begging the question if this is an area outside our ken. And, none of your theorizing of what our position (if you can ever manage to represent it correctly) might entail can conclude that there is no good reason. This begs the question.

Fifteen minutes of hell


“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 objection would be more forceful if it weren’t such a ridiculous caricature of the actual position. I’ve already corrected Reppert on this point, and I’ve discussed the issue in more detail in the past:

As Manata rightly says, “Since God has all-glory, he doesn't get ‘more’ glory. He's not like a bank where you can deposit ‘laudits’ into.”

God is not in the self-magnification business. He doesn’t need our praise. Our praises add nothing to his beatitude.

It’s a question of values and priorities. What makes life worthwhile? What is good? What is better? What is praiseworthy?

Many sinners squander the gift of life on banalities and trivialities. But God is both the greatest good and the exemplary good. Finite goods are good because they exemplify the goodness of God.

Some divine perfections would be manifest in a sinless world, but other divine perfections would only be manifest in a sinful world. God is praiseworthy in his justice no less than in his mercy.

Moreover, these are correlative. The objects of mercy are ill-deserving. They merit retribution. And that’s why mercy is discriminatory.

Do the reprobate praise God? No. But reprobation is praiseworthy, both because it’s a just judgment on sin, and because it reveals the justice of God.

God’s mercy is glorious. God’s justice is glorious. God’s wisdom is glorious. And so on and so forth. It’s not as if salvation is glorious while damnation is inglorious.

Do the damned glorify God? Not in the sense of praising him. But they glorify God in the sense of manifesting God’s glorious justice.

Manifested to whom, you ask? To elect men and angels—that’s who.

“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.”

That only follows from Reppert’s misdefinition of Reformed theology.

“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.”

God isn’t out to magnify his own glory. Rather, he glorifies his people, while his people are glorified in him.

“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.”

But this is all conjecture. As a rule, you can’t intuit a truth of fact. You can intuit a fact of reason, but not a fact of truth.

(An exception would be causal relations where you can intuit the cause from the effect, or vice versa.)

Contingent truths, unlike necessary truths, are not something we can generally intuit. Being contingent, they could have been otherwise. You can’t sit down and write a history book using your intuition.

History is based on observation and testimony—ultimately eyewitness testimony. Lewis can speculate to his heart’s content, but is it true?

Speculation is a sorry substitute for revelation. Conjectural explanations are valid when addressing conjectural objections. They operate at the same level. But is it true?

A fictitious theodicy, minus the exotic locations. As far as fictitious theodicies go, I prefer Perelandra to The Problem of Pain.

“But, once again, it looks as if God could simply make the blessed aware of this as a possible result without actually damning anyone.”

You mean, like those cheesy Hell House exhibits which some fundy churches stage around Halloween to scare teenagers away from riotous living? Break out the ketchup and decapitated mannequins?

Does that include a concession stand for popcorn, root beer, hotdogs, and cotton candy?

“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?”

No doubt this hits close to home for many Christians. And I’m all for giving people good reasons. But I don’t equate good reasons with make-believe reasons.

Moreover, the freewill defense doesn't begin take away the sense of loss. It tries to justify the loss, but the sense of loss remains.

“OK, but the opposite act, saving these people, would also have been just and equally praiseworthy.”

True, but simplistic—for these are not equivalent goods. Like a kaleidoscope, God has different ways of manifesting his goodness. Alternate goods.

“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.”

The freewill defense fails to explain why God created a lost soul. If God knows the fate of a lost soul, why didn’t he spare everyone concerned the pain and suffer by refraining from creating the lost soul in the first place?

Even on libertarian assumptions, every soul is not a lost soul. So why does God create any lost soul when he could create a heavenbound soul instead of a hellbound soul?

I’d add that I don’t take the anthropopathetic passages literally.

“But faith seeks understanding, and prefers theologies that hold out the most hope of providing some explanations.”

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Begin with a revealed truth, then seek the wisdom therein. That’s my method.

Reppert is holding out a false hope—nursed on imaginary conjectures.

“God would be just if God were to damn everyone. God would be just if God were to save everyone. God is just if, as they think he actually has done, saves some and not others. How could God possibly be unjust? And if the phrase ‘God is just’ will come out true regardless of what God does, we have to ask what it could possibly mean to say that God is just. If I say ‘The cat is on the mat’ there has to be a possible scenario according to which the cat is not on the mat, which is denied by the assertion. What is the Calvinist denying when the Calvinist says that God is just? What could it turn out that God has done that could be identified as unjust, given the fact that God is the creator and we are creatures. It looks to me as if the potter has so much freedom there's no meaningful sense to be made of the claim that God is just. ‘God is just’ becomes a miserable tautology, like ‘God does what God does’."

This is simpleminded. God would be just in damning everyone *because* everyone is a sinner. The justice of this counterfactual is indexed to a necessary condition. God would be just in saving everyone *if* Christ died for everyone. The justice of that counterfactual is indexed to a necessary condition. The justice of the outcome is not irrespective of other relevant factors.

If God damned the innocent, that would be unjust. If God saved sinners apart from penal substitution, that would be unjust.

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?


Liberals who routinely blame America for everything they think is wrong with the world are sensitive to the charge that they are unpatriotic. One of their countercharges is to accuse hawkish pundits and politicians of hypocrisy if they didn’t serve in the military, or if they didn’t “send their own kids” to war. What are we to make of this countercharge?

1.All things being equal, I do think it would be a good thing if a Commander-in-Chief served in the armed forces. It does lend him a certain moral authority. He’s not telling other people to assume a risk that he himself avoided.

That said, you can only choose from the candidates who choose to run. Moreover, the American electorate has never made military service a prerequisite for the Oval Office. For better or worse, that’s the way our system works.

2.The liberal countercharge reflects the liberal obsession with “hypocrisy.” Now, it’s quite possible that some hawkish pundits and politicians are hypocritical.

That, however, is irrelevant to whether our foreign policy is prudent or imprudent. A hypocrite might still be an excellent geopolitical strategist and tactician.

Conversely, someone can serve in the military, but be incompetent. George Bush ran through a slew of four-star generals before he discovered Gen. Petraeus.

3.Holding a post in service to your country doesn’t automatically make you a patriot. Every decade we have our share of spy scandals, in which someone is the army, navy, marines, CIA and so on betrayed his country:

Likewise, there was a scandal a few years ago at Walter Reed. Now, Walter Reed is headed by high-ranking officers. You’d think if anyone would be sympathetic to the plight of wounded soldiers, it would be fellow soldiers. It was civilians who brought the scandal to light, while some of the top brass stonewalled or make excuses.

4.The charge of hypocrisy can, itself be hypocritical. Rumsfeld was a navy pilot. Yet he came in for the same abuse as Bush and Cheney. So the critics don’t really care whether or not the hawk is a chickenhawk.

5.Is it hypocritical to support the troops unless you’re prepared to send your own kids to war?

i) It may be that some folks pay lip-service to the war effort, but when you call their hand, they’re just bluffing.

ii) Is it hypocritical for me to support your choice to become a doctor unless I become a doctor? I can honestly support someone else’s career choice without my making the same career choice.

iii) Parents don’t decide if their kids enlist. That’s an adult decision made by grown children. We have a volunteer army. Only grown-ups can join.

iv) It’s also quite possible to support military service while opposing a coed military. You could support your son’s decision to enlist while opposing your daughter’s decision to enlist.

v) There is a reason why parents might be ambivalent about military service. On the one hand, it’s a noble calling. On the other hand, life in the military can be very hard on family life. A long tour of duty can be a marriage wrecker.

So it’s quite possible for parents to have practical concerns about military service even though they support the troops. We can draw principled distinctions.

There’s a difference between encouraging your son to enlist, counseling him on the pros and cons of a career in the armed services, and respecting his choice once he’s made it.

vi) It’s also possible to enlist when you’re young and single, serve your country for a few years, then receive an honorable discharge, get married, have kids, &c.

A Glimpse Into Teleology

One of the best offenses against Darwinism is the teleological argument. In fact, that is what Intelligent Design is (teleology = the study of design). This is most damaging to the Darwinist position because on the one hand Darwinists will repudiate teleology, but on the other hand they will employ it at every corner. To give examples of both in the same book, Ernst Mayr wrote:

Another widespread erroneous view of natural selection must also be refuted: Selection is not teleological (goal-directed). Indeed, how could an elimination process be teleological? Selection does not have a long-term goal. It is a process repeated anew in every generation.

Mayr, E. (2001). What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books. p. 121

Yet Mayr also writes:

When the selective advantage of a skeleton developed among the ancestors of the vertebrates and of the arthropods, the arthropod ancestors had the prerequisites for developing an external skeleton, and the vertebrate ancestors for developing an internal skeleton. The entire evolution of these two large groups of organisms has since been affected by this choice among their remote ancestors.

(ibid, p. 141, emphasis added).

Evolution is an opportunistic process. Whenever there is an opportunity to outcompete a competitor or to enter a new niche, selection will make use of any property of the phenotype to succeed in this endeavor.

(ibid, p. 221, emphasis added).

Likewise, we read:

The legitimate use of the term adaptation is for a property of an organism, whether a structure, a physiological trait, a behavior, or anything else that the organism possesses, that is favored by selection over alternate traits. But the term also has been used quite incorrectly for the process ("adaptation") by which the favored trait was actively acquired. This view can be traced back to the ancient belief that organisms had an innate capacity for improvement, for steadily becoming "more perfect." Also, if one accepts an inheritance of acquired characters, activities such as the straining of the neck by giraffes "adapts" the neck to an improved construction. In this view, adaptation is an active process with a teleological basis. Some recent authors still seem to look at adaptation as such a process and therefore reject the whole concept of adaptation. But this is not defensible.

(ibid, p. 150).

Yet of adaptations, we read:

The shift from the quadropedal locomotion of a lizardlike reptile to bipedalism and flight in birds initiated a considerable restructuring of the body plan: a compacting of the whole body to have a better center of gravity, the development of a more efficient four-chambered heart, restructuring of the respiratory tract (lungs and air sacs), endothermy, improved vision, and an enlarged central nervous system. The acquisition of all of these adaptations was a matter of necessity.

(ibid, p. 219, emphasis added).

But Mayr is not the only one who falls prey to this. Indeed, when trying to describe their theories Darwinists are forced to use teleological representations. For instance, Gould wrote:

The model of the grabbag is a taxonomist's nightmare and an evolutionist's delight. Imagine an organism built of a hundred basic features, with twenty possible forms per feature. The grabbag contains a hundred compartments, with twenty different tokens in each. To make a new Burgess creature, the Great Token-Stringer takes one token at random from each compartment and strings them all together. Voilà, the creature works--and you have nearly as many successful experiments as a musical scale can build catchy tunes. The world has not operated this way since Burgess times. Today, the Great Token-Stringer uses a variety of separate bags--labeled "vertebrate body plan," "angiosperm body plan," "molluscan body plan," and so forth. The tokens in each compartment are far less numerous, and few if any from bag 1 can also be found in bag 2. The Great Token-Stringer now makes a much more orderly set of new creatures, but the playfulness and surprise of his early work have disappeared. He is no longer the enfant terrible of a brave new multicellular world, fashioning Anomalocaris with a hint of arthropod, Wiwaxia with a whiff of mollusk, Nectocaris with an amalgam of arthropod and vertebrate.

Gould, S. J. (1989). Wonderful Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 217-218

Naturally, Gould was trying to be poetic; but one wonders if it is even possible for him to explain his “grabbag” idea without resorting to the teleology of a designer (in the above case, the “Great Token-Stringer”). One suspects not. And those outside the field of biology are oblivious to the fact that evolution is supposed to be non-teleological. In fact, they see quite the opposite. For example, James Gleick in his book on the Chaos Theory wrote:

In science, on the whole, physical cause dominates. Indeed, as astronomy and physics emerged from the shadow of religion, no small part of the pain came from discarding arguments by design, forward-looking teleology--the earth is what it is so that humanity can do what it does. In biology, however, Darwin firmly established teleology as the central mode of thinking about cause. The biological world may not fulfill God's design, but it fulfills a design shaped by natural selection. Natural selection operates not on genes or embryos, but on the final product. So an adaptationist explanation for the shape of an organism or the function of an organ always looks to its cause, not its physical cause but its final cause. Final cause survives in science wherever Darwinian thinking has become habitual. A modern anthropologist speculating about cannibalism or ritual sacrifice tends, rightly or wrongly, to ask only what purpose it serves. D'Arcy Thompson saw this coming. He begged that biology remember physical cause as well, mechanism and teleology together. He devoted himself to explaining the mathematical and physical forces that work on life. As adaptations took hold, such explanations came to seem irrelevant. It became a rich and fruitful problem to explain a leaf in terms of how natural selection shaped such an effective solar panel. Only much later did some scientists start to puzzle again over the side of nature left unexplained. Leaves come in just a few shapes, of all the shapes imaginable; and the shape of a leaf is not dictated by its function.

Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Penguin Books. p. 201-202

Because of this cognitive dissonance, teleology works well against Darwinists. If something looks designed, the simplest and straightforward reason is that it’s because it was designed. It is because of how much design is apparent in the living world that Dawkins had to take the time to pen The Blind Watchmaker in the first place. If nature didn’t have the designed appearance of a watch, Dawkins wouldn’t have needed to try to come up with an alternate explanation for it.

So teleology has found a niche in anti-Darwinian circles. I, however, would like to expand it out a bit further than that. Most recently, I’ve been studying cryptology as part of my endeavors to better understand such things as information theory, etc. Cryptology is also important since I enjoy dissecting Darwinist arguments and DNA happens to be very prominent in many of them. Since DNA is a “living code” understanding certain principals of cryptology can be beneficial.

Surprisingly, however, my thoughts have strayed from their original course in biology. The living order is teleological, and it is difficult for anyone to honestly look at it and yet still deny the inherent design. But so too is the non-living universe. Teleology surrounds us everywhere we look. It is not just in living systems, but anywhere that there is a system. And because of that, my original focus and my original purpose for reading up on cryptology (besides the fact that I’m weird and actually enjoy the subject) has expanded somewhat.

All reality is teleological.

Since my thinking has come about as the result of reading on cryptology, it perhaps wouldn’t hurt if I gave the specific example that got me thinking on this issue. William Friedman, who was instrumental in the US breaking of the Japanese cipher PURPLE in World War II, wrote The Index of Coincidence and Its Applications in Cryptography in 1920 when he was 28 years old. It was later updated somewhat after Friedman found the solution for a cipher machine using cryptographic rotors. David Khan, in The Code-Breakers, illustrates the theory in this manner:

Imagine an urn containing one each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. The chance of drawing any specified letter, say r, is one in 26, or 1/26. Now imagine another, identical urn. The chance of drawing an r is equally one in 26, or 1/26. What are the odds of drawing a pair of r’s, one after another, in a two-draw situation? The likelihood of drawing the second r is 1/26 of the chance of drawing the first, which is 1/26. So the chance of drawing two r’s in a single event, or “simultaneously,” one from each urn, is 1/26 x 1/26. Similarly, the probability of drawing two a’s is 1/26 x 1/26, of two b’s 1/26 x 1/26, and so on. Consequently, the chance of drawing a pair of letters—any pair of letters, no matter which pair may come up—is the sum of all these probabilities. It is (1/26 x 1/26) + (1/26 x 1/26) + … + (1/26 x 1/26), repeated 26 times, or 26 x (1/26 x 1/26), or 1/26. This quantity may be written as the decimal 0.0385.

Assume now an ideal cryptosystem whose ciphertexts yield a perfectly flat frequency count—one with as many a’s as b’s as c’s…as z’s. Polyalphabetics approach this in varying degrees and may, for practical purposes, be regarded as generating such ciphertexts. These texts are called “random” because they are what would be obtained if letters were drawn at random from the urn (each letter being replaced after being noted and the urn shaken to mix the lot, chance alone dictating their identities). If two such random texts are superimposed, the chance that the letter above will be the same as the letter below is the same as the chance of drawing a pair of identical letters from the two urns. This is 0.0385, or, to put it another way, there will be 3.85 such coincidences in every 100 vertical pairs. Experiment will confirm this.

Now imagine an urn filled with 100 letters of English in the proportion in which they are used in normal text—8 a’s, 1 b, 3 c’s, 13 e’s, and so on. The chance of drawing a specified letter is now proportional to its frequency. The probability that an a will emerge is 8/100ths, that a e will is 13/100ths. With two such urns, the chance of drawing two a’s is, as before, the product of the individual probabilities, or 8/100 x 8/100; the chance of drawing two e’s is consequently 13/100 x 13/100. And the probability of drawing a pair—any pair—of identical letters is the sum of all these pair-probabilities: (8/100 x 8/100) + (1/100 x 1/100) + (3/100 x 3/100) …, and so on through all 26 letters. This calculation has been made (with a slightly different frequency table). The result is 0.0667.

These two plaintext urns may likewise be replaced by two strings of plaintext. If they are superimposed, there will be as much likelihood that two letters will coincide vertically as there was that two identical letters will be drawn from the two urns. This probability is 0.0667, or 6.67 coincidences per 100 paris. For example:

text A wheninthecourseofhumaneventsitbecomesnecessaryforo
text B fourscoreandsevenyearsagoourfathersbroughtforthupo

text A (cont.) nenationtodissolvethepoliticalbandsthathaveconnect
text B (cont.) nthiscontinentanewnationconceivedinlibertyanddedic

There are just seven coincidences in the 100 pairs—precisely what theory predicts.

…[O]ne must recognize first that the superimposition of two monalphabetically enciphered texts will result in the…figure of about 6.67 coincidences per 100 vertical pairs, or 6.67 per cent of coincidences. This is because the coincidences will occur whether the letters are clothed in ciphertext disguises or not. The calculation does not ask the letters for their identities. It merely notes their coincidence. By the same token—and this is important—two polyalphabetic cryptograms enciphered in the same key and superimposed so that the two occurrences of that key are in synchronization with one another will also show 6.67 per cent of coincidences. The reason is this: In a correct (in-phase) superimposition, the two letters of each vertical pair have the same keyletter. Thus whenever a coincidence occurs in the plaintext, the letters of the pair will be identically enciphered. This results in an identical pair—a coincidence—in the ciphertext. It does not matter that a pair of e’s may be enciphered into V’s at one point and into Q’s at another, or that a coincidence of a’s becomes a coincidence of L’s here and a coincidence of F’s there. The toal number of coincidences will remain the same as the number in the plaintext.

On the other hand, if the two cryptograms are improperly superimposed, so that the keys are not in step, any coincidences will result from different keyletters operating on different plaintext letters to accidentally produce the same ciphertext letter. The coincidences will be caused, in other words, by chance. Chance alone will produce 3.85 coincidences per 100 vertical pairs in random text, and polyalphabetic ciphertext is equivalent to random text. Hence an incorrect superimposition should yield about 3.85 per cent of coincidences. But 3.85 per cent is substantially less than 6.67 per cent, and so a comparison of the percentages of coincidences at various test superimpositions should show which superimposition is correct.

An example should make things clear. A cryptosystem with the Vigenère running key THE BARD OF AVON IS THE AUTHOR OF THESE LINES…starts the key for the first message with the first keyletter, but starts the key for successive messages with the third, fifth, and so on, keyletters. If plaintext 1 is If music be the food of love, play on, and plaintext 2 is Now is the winter of our discontent, the encipherment will be these:

plaintext 1 ifmusicbethefoodofloveplayon

plaintext 2 nowisthewinterofourdiscontent

A cryptanalyst, receiving these two cryptograms, will superimpose them so that they start at the same point:


Since there are 28 vertical pairs, the cryptanalyst would expect 28 x 0.0667 coincidences or 1.8676, or about 2, for a proper superimposition. But in fact he finds none, so he shifts the second cryptogram one space to the right and tries again. There will now be 27 vertical pairs. The cryptanalyst again calculates the theoretical expected number of coincidences for random and for correctly superimposed texts of this length so that he may compare the values with what he actually observes. Thus, a wrongly superimposed text would yield 27 x 0.0385 = 0.9695, or about 1 coincidence that would produced by chance alone, while a correct superimposition would yield 27 x 0.0667 = 1.2369. (These fractional differences become more pronounced with longer texts.) One coincidence appears….

Since the differences between the chance and the caused values are so slight with so few letters, the cryptanalyst might wonder whether this is not in fact a random result (which in fact it is…) and try the next superimposition. Here the number of coincidences immediately jumps. This superimposition is obviously correct.


If the cryptanalyst wishes to continue, he will find that at the next superimposition the number of coincidences falls again, to 2, and will return to begin his attack with the third superimposition…

Kahn, D. (1967, 1996). The Codebreakers. New York: Scribner. p. 377-380.

With this as the immediate background, I’ll simply note how my train of thought has progressed. When dealing with language, we are dealing with something that we know is designed. Language requires intelligence, and this is even more evident when it comes to written text. Because text is a product of intelligence, it will always display the hallmark of intelligence. One will be able to differentiate between that which is designed and that which is random.

The above examples demonstrate it beautifully. Take the illustration of putting the opening line of the Declaration of Independence above the opening of the Gettysburg address. Because both texts were written in English, and because English is designed rather than random, English traits will carry through. There will be vertical alignment of almost 7%. Random texts only have 3%. Because this is the case, even hiding English within a cipher does not destroy these traits, although it obscures it at first glance.

Design, therefore, is something that would permeate everything. It might not be immediately apparent at first glance, but there will be traits that can be sought mathematically that will yield results nowhere near what random results would give us.

Now obviously when one thinks about living systems, one can see that there are processes at work that are not random. Even the relatively simple actions of an ion pump inside a cell demonstrate values that are not what one would find in a random environment. A cell becomes charged due to the existence of these ion pumps (which is how the electrical pulse can travel the nerve), but under random circumstances the charge would dissipate.

Indeed, when thinking of what is truly random one immediately must think of entropy. The less entropy there is in a system, the less random it is. If a room has low entropy, it is because everything is ordered. If it has high entropy, it is randomized. The more ordered something is, the less random it must be.

This brings us immediately to questions of the universe as a whole. And not just in terms of entropy amongst galaxies and such. Instead, I want to ask more foundational questions.

Suppose we see iron filings arrayed on a table next to a magnet. The filings will lay in a particular pattern and won’t lay randomly. Why is this the case? Of course the immediate answer is because magnetic forces have arranged the iron filings in that manner. But why is it that magnetic forces would act in that manner? We can dig into the quantum levels, perhaps. But that merely begs the question: why is it that those quantum particals act the way they do? What is it that causes electrons to be repulsed from one another? What is it that causes protons to attract electrons? Why is it that these things always happen this way, that there is no variance…no randomness to it?

Even things that are apparently random turn out to hide hidden order. Take radioactivity for instance. Radioactive elements are used to produce random cipher keys even, because no one can predict when an alpha particle will decay. But despite how “random” the decay is, radioactive elements always decay at a specific rate. Despite the random nature, there is an over-riding law that stipulates what the half-life of that radioactive element will be. We may not be able to predict when the next alpha particle will decay, but we know that after a set amount of time exactly half of the element will have decayed.

Is that not an instance of the non-random showing itself? Like the cipher text that cannot help but display the design of the English language, if one but knew where to look, don’t the underlying laws that govern all the universe scream out that there is underlying order to even what we think is chaos?

Earlier I quoted Gleick’s comment about the shape of leaves, which are governed not by forces of Natural Selection but instead by fractal designs. The key there is “designs.” All of reality is based on these deep, inherent designs. And these designs cannot be random because they are, in fact, distinct from what we would see in a purely random field.

Naturally I know that some chaoticians say that order springs from chaos, and they will use mathematical representations of chaos to illustrate this…all the while ignoring the fact that the mathematical system that they are using to generate those fractals is itself non-chaotic. Indeed, as some may already know I’ve spent lots of time playing with what I call the “Factor Field.” It’s an Excel program that I made (you can e-mail me if you want a copy using my yahoo account. Simply put “petedawg34” and follow it with “@” and finish with “”, and yes defeating spambots is always fun). The Factor Field is simply a graphical representation of integers. The left-most column counts by 1. The second column by 2s. Etc. Because I used Excel, it only shows 256 wide, but it goes 65,536 deep. Here is but one example of what you can see at cell number 60,480:

This shows what I call a “starburst” pattern. You can also see the skeletons of parabolas in there, as well as many different lines of various slopes. All this was created by putting integers in patterns next to each other.

If you were to isolate some of the pixels on the right side of the graphic, the dots would look very chaotic. There would not appear to be any particular rhyme or reason for any of them to be where they are. Yet they came about due to a specific rule. There is an underlying order that created the seeming randomness that is seen. And stepping back, viewing it from the distance where one can see the whole starburst, the order is obvious.

Likewise, the factor field can make it easy to find if a number is a prime number, but it doesn’t make it any easier to predict prime numbers that aren’t shown on the graph (although via observation, I hypothesize that all prime numbers greater than 3 are numbers that end in either 1 or 5 in base-6, but that’s another blog post for another time). One can tell that previous portions of the graph affect later portions, but it is so complex that it is difficult for humans to predict how the effects will play out “off screen.”

This interplay of chaos and order is only possible because the structure of the factor field is built on order. It’s an order that displays chaotic behavior later on, but it remains order. Likewise, all the representation of chaos theory are built on mathematical models that are, themselves, strict. Math doesn’t randomly make 1 + 1 = 7. It cannot happen. And the rules of chaos mean that doing the same math formula over with the exact same data will yield the exact same result. That there are wild differences if the data is even minorly tweaked doesn’t change the fact that not tweaking it yields identical results.

In other words, even in the most random systems we can think of, because they are real, have order underlying them. Reality is not random. Reality is, at heart, the opposite of random. And what is the opposite of randomness?


Thursday, May 01, 2008

A black pundit on Obama & Wright

"The Wright Cost of Anger"

Faith, fact, or fiction

Victor Reppert continues his critique of Calvinism. The fundamental problem I have with Reppert’s critique is that his theological method is completely different than mine. Reppert takes a far more theoretical approach to theology than I do. My theology is rooted in historical revelation.

I distinguish between Christian theology and Christian apologetics. For me, Christian theology drives Christian apologetics, but for Reppert, Christian apologetics is driving Christian theology.

I think that Reppert’s orientation may have two or three potential sources:

1.Plantinga, in fielding the logical argument from evil, established the strategy of responding with a *possible* alternative explanation. And when you’re deading with the *logical* argument from evil, a merely *possible* alternative is sufficient to invalidate the logical argument from evil.

I also think there’s nothing wrong with that move. He was answering the unbeliever on his own terms.

However, while that’s a good way to do apologetics, that’s no way to do theology. For in theology, we want to build on revealed truths, not pure conjectures.

2.Reppert seems to be operating with a version of natural theology in which you must validate certain theistic claims apart from revelation in order validate revelatory claims.

3.Likewise, there’s a theological tradition in which Christian faith falls short of knowledge. It’s a defeasible belief, like any other belief.

Apropos (2)-(3), my own religious experience is not that detached or compartmentalized. My faith in God and God’s word is more spontaneous and irrepressible. It’s not a seesaw in which I put the arguments on one side, the counterarguments on the other side, then stand back and see if the arguments outweigh the counterarguments, or vice versa.

Although I can argue for my faith, my faith is not reducible to my arguments. There’s an underlying religious experience which isn’t captured by formal arguments. What Newman called the illative sense and Polanyi called tacit knowledge.

Likewise, my religious impressions are more holistic than treating religious faith like staircase or ladder in which we can only graduate from one religious belief to another in a certain order, one rung at a time. My faith doesn’t have this unilinear, stepwise structure to it.

For me, there is not hiatus between revelation and providence. Between what I read and what I see. So I find Reppert’s framework quite artificial. I can relate to it at the level of critical sympathy, but at a personal level I don’t identify with his theological method.

I suspect there’s a third reason that Reppert tends to brush off exegetical appeals. That’s an argument from authority. And he may feel that such an appeal doesn’t afford a genuine explanation.

To that I’d say the following: I don’t appeal to Scripture because it’s the pious thing to do. I appeal to Scripture because it’s the practical thing to do.

How the hell would I know why God willed the occurrence of evil unless he tells me? If you want to know why God did something, the logical person to ask is God. I turn to Scripture because the Bible gives me God’s interpretation of his own actions. If I can’t find the answer in the Bible, then there’s no alternative source of information.

Put another way, I don’t think that Reppert’s speculations count as genuine explanations. There are so many conjectures to choose from.

Given a choice, I’d rather have a true answer that falls short of a complete explanation than a speculative explanation that falls short of truth.

Reppert invokes the specter of the Cartesian demon to blunt the appeal to revelation. But there are several problems with that maneuver:

i) Once you uncork the bottle and release the Cartesian genie, you can’t get it back into the bottle. You can’t *selectively* appeal to Cartesian demons. Invoking a Cartesian demon to undercut Calvinism or Reformed exegesis doesn’t do anything to justify an alternative like universalism or Arminianism or atheism or natural theology. For the “Omnipotent Fiend” lies behind each and every one of these alternative explanations.

ii) If there were a Cartesian demon, why would he blow his cover by planting the idea of a Cartesian demon in my mind? Wouldn’t his deception be more convincing if I didn’t suspect the existence of the Cartesian demon?

iii) The hypothetical is otiose. If there were a Cartesian demon, there’s nothing I could to thwart this global illusion, so invoking that hypothetical entity gives me no reason to prefer your position over mine. If the hypothetical were true, then nothing I believe or disbelieve makes any difference. There is no escape, whether into Calvinism or Arminianism or atheism or Hinduism or Buddhism or monadology or natural theology. Every apparent alternative is a mask for the Cartesian demon. So that maneuver confers no advantage on your own position.

Moving on to the specifics,

“There are difficulties with every position. You have to pick the position with the fewest difficulties.”

Actually, I don’t. I’d rather pick a true position, even if it has more difficulties, than a conjectural position with fewer difficulties.

I’ve also found that real life is very complicated.

“But the ‘illustration’ could have been accomplished in any number of less harmful ways.”

What does that have to do with real life? God could have delivered the Israelites by a less harmful means than the Ten Plagues. Your objection doesn’t constitute a factual rebuttal.

“Most study of the problem of evil suggests that with respect to a portion of human suffering, we can come up with possible scenarios according to which we can see why God would permit it. With other suffering, we aren't in a position to see why it occurs, but we are nevertheless entitle to believe that there is an answer even if we can't see it. With respect to some evils, it seems possible and in some cases easy to see why God permits them. With others, there is considerably more mystery.”

i) I’ve already pointed out the limitations with this theodicean strategy. It’s a valid move in apologetics, but I don’t base my theology on mere conjecture.

ii) I can offer a general explanation for evil, but I don’t presume to offer a specific explanation for why the Lord ordains any evil in particular—except where he has revealed him ulterior motives.

“Let's take the evil of everlasting suffering in hell. On a free will view I can see how someone might end up permanently in rebellion against God and unable (because they are unwilling to serve) to receive the joys of heaven.”

Why is that explanation limited to a libertarian? In Calvinism, one reason a sinner remains in hell is because he remains a sinner. His rebellion never comes to an end.

“Read The Great Divorce for how that goes.”

But, of course, The Great Divorce is fictitious.

“The first answer for the Calvinists has to be that they are sinners and deserve it.”

That’s a morally sufficient reason for hell. Given that damnation is just, God is at liberty to damn sinners.

That, of itself, doesn’t necessarily explain why he chooses to damn anyone. It’s not a sufficient explanation in that respect. But it does mean that God is not mistreating a sinner by damning him. It supplies a necessary condition.

“This assumes a couple of things, first that a temporal sin can deserve an infinite amount and duration of punishment”

I don’t even know what “a n infinite amount of punishment” means. And the Biblical doctrine of hell isn’t predicated on inflicting an “infinite amount of punishment” on the sinner.

Whether the duration of hell is “infinite” depends on whether you are defining “infinite” in potential or actual terms. The duration of hell is always finite. An endless temporal succession is a potential infinite, not an actual infinite. Both the sin and its punishment are temporal or finite.

Conversely, guilt is qualitative, not quantitative. If I do something wrong, it will always be the case that I did something wrong. The lapse of time doesn’t make me any less guilty over time.

“And second that humans can deserve retributive punishment for actions that they are determined by another to perform. (This is a strong form of compatibilism. Many compatibilists are not retributivists about punishment. They argue, for instance, that even if determinism is true, you can still deter crime by punishing criminals.)”

i) Reppert is setting up a false dichotomy. A retributivist is not necessarily opposed to either deterrence or remediation. Those are not mutually exclusive alternatives.

ii) Hell can serve as a deterrent in this life, but it loses any deterrent value in the next life. And hell is not a form of remedial punishment. So even if Scripture didn’t explicitly justify hell on retributive grounds, that would be the default explanation—by process of elimination.

“But let's grant these highly counterintuitive claims for the sake of argument.”

But, as we’ve just seen, neither one is counterintuitive. Hence, they don’t create any presumption to the contrary which Calvinism must then overcome.

“The unanimous answer in Calvinist theology seems to be that God does it for his own glory.”

That supplies another necessary condition. Between them, the “first answer” and the second answer constitute a sufficient condition.

However, we need to define our terms with care (see below).

“This seems as little counterintuitive as well--people who cause others to suffer for their own glory here on earth are considered bad, not good.”

i) Some people deserve to suffer. Causing them to suffer is good, not bad.

ii) We’re still equivocating over what the glorification refers to (see below).

“But let's grant that counterintuitive claim also.”

Counterintuitive to whom? Reppert has a sly habit of making disputable claims as if these were indisputable, then using these to create a presumption against the opposing thesis.

“Glory, it seems to me, analytically requires that it be glory in the eyes of someone.”


“On the face of things, the way a God pursuing his own glory to achieve that goal would be to save everyone so that there could be as many people as possible praising Him forever.”

I don’t see that God is pursuing his own glory. Rather, God glorifies his people. But they are glorified because they glory is the glorious attributes of God, which he reveals in history.

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.

“And my response is that God, as an omnipotent and completely sovereign being can decree into place any state of mind that he wants without having to use the means of damned souls to create this glory for himself.”

Meaning what? Creating an illusion? A state of mind that doesn’t correspond to a real world referent? Yes, God has the power to do that.

God could also create a virtual crucifixion. But how does Reppert think that a delusive simulation affords a morally sufficient alternative? Isn’t that rather Docetic?

“(Let's also put to the side any Kantian worries about using people as a mere means).”

Since I’m not a Kantian deontologist, I have no worries to set aside in that respect.

“So the instantiation of damned essences doesn't serve any conceivable greater good, because that good could be accomplished without the damnations.”

That’s a non sequitur. Reppert is now assuming that the greater good must be unique. That there can only be one greater good.

I don’t see how that follows. Why can’t there be alternative greater goods? Alternative second-order goods?

I can father a child without fathering a child with Down syndrome. Yet a child with Down syndrome represents a second-order good.

Is it wrong for God to create a child with Down syndrome? God could create a normal baby in his place. But it wouldn’t be the same baby. It wouldn’t be the same person. There’s a good that comes of this genetic defect (same with autism) that wouldn’t emerge without it. I don’t subscribe to Reppert’s eugenic theodicy.

“I am simply arguing that whatever glory God wants or needs he can accomplish without inflicting eternal punishment on anyone. Therefore, even granting several Calvinistic assumptions, eternal damnation remains an apparently gratuitous evil.”

Gratuitous in what sense? Unnecessary? Or pointless?

In Christian theology, it’s necessary that Christ die. Yet it’s not necessary that he die by any particular means. But that doesn’t mean the Cross was a gratuitous evil. It was purposeful. It served its purpose.

“If God makes me a sinner, there has to be some good that is brought out of it, if I am a reprobated sinner, then there must be something gained from my being a reprobated sinner.”

True. But the reprobate doesn’t have to be the beneficiary. Someone else can be the beneficiary (i.e. the elect).

“I argued that God has something to gain from saving us but nothing to gain from reprobating us, if it is strictly up to him.”

God has nothing to gain in either case. God is not doing himself a favor. Rather, he’s doing the elect a favor.

Point/Counterpoint on "Expelled"

There's a discussion going on over at Alan's blog about Expelled.

No, God, You Couldn't Possibly Have a Reason for That

Reppert has given a new, toned down version of his argument against Calvinism. A little nip/tuck never hurt anyone.

He thinks this one has got potential.

If you go over to Triablogue, you will find all sorts of dismal remarks about how poorly I have made the case for the critics of Calvinism.
Not quite. You'll find observations to the effect that I, for instance, have answered questions and responded to arguments of yours and you keep acting as if your points have been established and don't have any rebutting or undercutting defeaters for them. Observational remarks aren't necessarily dismissive remarks.

With respect to some issues, related to biblical interpretation, I don't think I have anything to add to the discussion that has not already been brought up in other discussions of the subject.
Well, where we're at here is that if you take the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, and you also believe that it teaches Calvinism, and God's goodness, then you must believe both; to the detriment of your intuitions. Or, you must give up one of the other beliefs. I'm ready to debate the text if you want as it bears on Calvinism. We both agree that God's goodness is plain as day. Or, you can drop inerrancy. As it stands, you seem to not want to deny inerrancy and you sidestep the exegetical debate by appeals to "disagreements" about the text. So far, to succeed on this front, you've had to play the skeptic. We'll also see how this tactic comes in to undermine some of your claims below.

What maybe I have come up with, however, is an argument concerning the concept of glory that I don't think has been satisfactorily answered.
Victor's jumping from pillar to post. Moving from new argument to new argument. Leaving his old ones behind. An inductive generalization would lead one to admit they should take a break on this argument and study the topic out some more.

Most study of the problem of evil suggests that with respect to a portion of human suffering, we can come up with possible scenarios according to which we can see why God would permit it. With other suffering, we aren't in a position to see why it occurs, but we are nevertheless entitle to believe that there is an answer even if we can't see it.

With respect to some evils, it seems possible and in some cases easy to see why God permits them. With others, there is considerably more mystery.
Not only that, this appeal to mystery is virtually entailed by other Christian doctrines. The doctrine of the Creator/creature distinction. The incomprehensibility of God. The noetic effects of sin. The infinite wisdom and plan of God. Looser boundaries with respect to how language applies to God, etc. These points will come back into play below.

Let's take the evil of everlasting suffering in hell. On a free will view I can see how someone might end up permanently in rebellion against God and unable (because they are unwilling to serve) to receive the joys of heaven. Read The Great Divorce for how that goes. But why, on a Calvinist view would anyone end up in hell?
As I've asked probably 10 times now, how does your Arminianism justify the existence of hell? This isn't all that clear to me.

Why can't God create beings who always do the right thing (libertarian) freely? Is that possible? Presumably in heaven we will never sin. Yet, on your assumptions, we will have libertarian freedom.

How does Reppert know that there is not a possible world where God could instantiate this?

Appeal to transworld depravity (despite other questions) suffers from the objection that orthodox Christianity teaches that Jesus had a creaturely essence and yet, presumably, didn't suffer from translworld depravity.

And, why did God, assuming he knows the future (if he didn't and you take the open theist route, then this raises other problems of evil (as Hasker notes well in his debate with Helm in Blackwell's Debates in Philosophy of Religion), but we'll proceed on the assumption that you're not an open theist), create beings he knew would end up in hell? It doesn't seem intuitive to me that the good of creating a being who had libertarian freedom, but who you knew would go to hell with that freedom, is sufficient justification.

The first answer for the Calvinists has to be that they are sinners and deserve it. This assumes a couple of things, first that a temporal sin can deserve an infinite amount and duration of punishment, and second that humans can deserve retributive punishment for actions that they are determined by another to perform. (This is a strong form of compatibilism. Many compatibilists are not retributivists about punishment. They argue, for instance, that even if determinism is true, you can still deter crime by punishing criminals.) But let's grant these highly counterintuitive claims for the sake of argument.
Let's note that you're answering "why" we say some people end up in hell. The above answers work for some understanding of "why." Since I don't know your sense, I'll leave it at that, for now.

Secondly, let's note that it's not just Calvinists who are "retributivists." We could also ask what your theory of punishment in hell is? Is it to deter the sinless saints from sinning? That seems odd. Is it restorative? Does God know they will be restored? Is so, then you are a Universalist. If not, then God is means-end irrational since he employs a means that he knows will not achieve its desired end.

Thirdly, since you said that you accept this story as true for arguments sake, I do not need to speak to, or point out that you have not, yet, offered any reason why this is "counterintuitive." You keep saying that but when you try to spell it out, the arguments just don't work. I will hold you to your claim that you are granting this story. This will be borne out below.

We still need to explain why God would create a permanently unrepentant sinner, when he could preordain them not to sin or preordain them to receive God's irresistible grace and save them.
i) It's not clear why we need to explain that. What's the cash value if we can't explain why God would do that? Do you believe God in fact created the duck-billed platypus? Well, why would he create that kind of being?

ii) If we must meet this burden then you "need" to explain why God would create S--who he knew would never, ever, not in a gazillion years, repent--knowing that S would spend eternity in hell? Why not just create the people that would choose him?

iii) Why did God create Adam and Eve, who he knew will fall, and bring sin and misery into the world? Why not create Jesus first? Jesus, rather than the second Adam, is the first Adam. He keeps the law. Merits eternal life for all his people. Why didn’t God do that? Why? Did I ask, why?

iv) Why did Jesus speak in parables so that some people would not turn and repent?

10When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that,
" 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'

The unanimous answer in Calvinist theology seems to be that God does it for his own glory.
i) Has Reppert read any Calvinistic study on this topic?

ii) Where's the page numbers of all the Calvinists books where this "unanimous" answer is found?

iii) Apropos (ii), are you talking about (a) preterition or (b) condemnation? If (a), the reason is unknown. This is a permissive action. Not an efficacious one. God leaves some people in a state of sin. Is Reppert saying that God is bound to redeem all men out of the state of sin? That God has to? That he can't pass by some sinner? Why would you think a thing like that? If (b) then the reason is based on his justice. This distinction ((b)) is not based on his good pleasure. He condemns S because S is a sinner.

iv) How do you not have a problem? God knows who will end up accepting him and who will not (we're assuming you're not an open theist or a Universalist, since I've been told that you're not). Thus out of the mass of humans God creates, he knows that some will go to hell and some will go to heaven. He then chose to instantiate this creation. He didn't (say) "cut it in half" and just create those who would choose to repent. Thus, it looks like God chose to create some people that would end up in hell. Those people never had a chance. They just played out the life God saw they lived when he peered into the crystal ball. To say that they were libertarian fee doesn't matter much. Seems superfluous. So what? He knew they wouldn’t use that freedom to accept him. Thus, he created them knowing full well that they would, despite their freedom, go to hell anyway.

v) I see my view, for instance, in Romans 11:22 "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."

This seems as little counterintuitive as well--people who cause others to suffer for their own glory here on earth are considered bad, not good. But let's grant that counterintuitive claim also.
i) That you grant this will come into play below.

ii) Note, above, that you granted that: "The first answer for the Calvinists has to be that they are sinners and deserve it." Thus, you granted that God was a just judge who rightly sent criminals to their just deserts. So, that you granted that would not make this so much counterintuitive anymore.

iii) I've already corrected you're unfamiliarity with Reformed teaching on this matter. Pointed to your vagueness and ambiguities. Passing over (preterition) doesn't cause the sinner to suffer. God leaves them in their sin. On the other hand, as regards condemnation, he "causes" the sinner to suffer because of God's justice and the sinners sin.

iv) Notice that you reason, again, in the counterintuitive way that whatever can be said of God can be said of humans, and vice versa. You seem to have zero respect for the Creator/creature distinction.

The Bible says that it is okay for God to take vengeance, but not us, for instance.

Humans that send innocent people to their own death, in the place of guilty people, seems "counterintuitive." So, on your own score, you think certain Christian teachings are counterintuitive.

Glory, it seems to me, analytically requires that it be glory in the eyes of someone. (Is there any Scripture verse that suggests a different conception of glory?) On the face of things, the way a God pursuing his own glory to achieve that goal would be to save everyone so that there could be as many people as possible praising Him forever.
i) Since I've totally de-fanged your "for his glory" objection, I could technically be dismissive of your missive.

ii) I don't see how you think the above is prima facie. That's not clear to me, at all. And, is this your view of heaven? One eternal church service?

iii) One prima facie way a God would do this is to bring about his will in all areas of life. Laying out the master plan of master plans. Orchestrating every jot and tittle. Governing all things. Unveiling how this all works out and his reasons for everything.

iv) Given Reformed theology, Jesus died for his sheep and only his sheep. Hew knew them by name. Had a plan to save those he died for. Accomplished his plan. He acted like a faithful bridegroom. Saved his bride, the church, and made them spotless. Loved them. Acted as the exemplar for how husbands are supposed to love their wives. So, which husband gets more glory: the one who stays faithful to his wife, even dies for her; or, the one who is a playa? Cheats on his wife. Gives the same love to all women? Makes an appearance on the Jerry Springer show.

v) Where's the argument for the assumption that more voices in the choir equals more glory for God? Is that divine calculus?

But no, Calvinists say that God can demonstrate his wrath against sin by having some lost people (lots and lots of lost people, actually). The idea, I take it, is that the saved will praise God more because they recognize God's holiness and absolute opposition to sin by seeing people in hell.
Though some of that is no doubt true, it is no where near sufficient.

Since there will be people who acted "better" than I did who will be in hell . . . probably way better, the existence of a hell will show that salvation is by grace alone.

Also, they are sinners. God, as essentially just and righteous, must punish them. To ask why he chose to leave them in their sinful state, why he passed over them and let them continue the inevitable track of a sinner, is to try to peer into the mysterious council of God. So, part of the idea, that you granted above, was that God was just in punishing criminals. That's what we know, we don't know the reason of his preterition. But, where's the problem here? I'm having trouble seeing exactly what it is that you are having such a problem with. Perhaps you can read some Reformed theology, and then write a post showing precisely how problems follow from our position. As far as preterition goes, since God does not have to redeem any sinner, is under no moral obligation to do so, I fail to see a problem, intuition or otherwise.

Thus it's not necessary that we "praise God" for this, though we will, but it is necessary that he punish sinners since God is necessarily a just and righteous being.

And my response is that God, as an omnipotent and completely sovereign being can decree into place any state of mind that he wants without having to use the means of damned souls to create this glory for himself.
And this has been de-fanged by noting that God must punish sinners even if our state of mind were not such that we "praise God" for what he's done. That we will praise God is not the main reason for his condemning sinners to hell. That's a by-product. That's an effect of a sanctified mind. So, even if God determined that we would freely praise him, that does nothing to negate the fact that he still has to punish the sinner. You ask why he didn't redeem the sinner instead of passing them over? I ask, did he have to? I don't get it.

A judge may issue a just decision and the people will praise him, but that's not the reason for the display of justice. We can add some meat to this with a concrete example:

I Kings 3:16 One day two women came to King Solomon, 17and one of them said: Your Majesty, this woman and I live in the same house. Not long ago my baby was born at home, 18and three days later her baby was born. Nobody else was there with us.
19 One night while we were all asleep, she rolled over on her baby, and he died. 20 Then while I was still asleep, she got up and took my son out of my bed. She put him in her bed, then she put her dead baby next to me.21 In the morning when I got up to feed my son, I saw that he was dead. But when I looked at him in the light, I knew he wasn't my son. 22 "No!" the other woman shouted. "He was your son. My baby is alive!" "The dead baby is yours," the first woman yelled. "Mine is alive!" They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, 23 until finally he said, "Both of you say this live baby is yours. 24 Someone bring me a sword." A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, 25 "Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him." 26 "Please don't kill my son," the baby's mother screamed. "Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don't kill him." The other woman shouted, "Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby." 27 Solomon said, "Don't kill the baby." Then he pointed to the first woman, "She is his real mother. Give the baby to her." 28 Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision. They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly.

Thus we see that the people did praise Solomon, this was a by-product of the display of wisdom and justice. According to your argument, Dr. Reppert, you'd say that this by-product was the only or main purpose for this display of justice. If not, then that's how we see our situation in heaven as we stand before the just God who judges sin by his holy character.

(Let's also put to the side any Kantian worries about using people as a mere means).
i) Worry no more (see above).

ii) Kant justified punishment by the categorical imperative by arguing that if someone S, say, killed someone, then S is acting as if this were a universal law, and thereby agrees with his punishment; agrees it is just. So, if S sinned against God, and knew this deserved death (cf. Romans 1), whence ariseth the Kantian problem?

So the instantiation of damned essences doesn't serve any conceivable greater good, because that good could be accomplished without the damnations.
i) But you granted above that this punishment was just. It is the punishment of criminals. Since when did you start thinking that punishing criminals worthy of said punishment is not good? That's odd.

ii) As contemporary philosophers of religion have pointed out, Victor, there doesn't need to be a conceivable greater good, there just needs to be a greater good. It's precisely the move from "no conceivable" to "there are no" that is in dispute. See Bergman's "noseeum" argument in Blackwell's Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion.

iii) So, my argument has been that there is a greater good. To say that we can't conceive it is just to beg the question against every major theodicy of our day. You need to know that there is no good. But, given the entailments of orthodox Christian theism, viz., the doctrine of the Creator/creature distinction; the incomprehensibility of God; the noetic effects of sin (our epistemic situation); the infinite wisdom and plan of God; and looser boundaries with respect to how language applies to God, etc.

iv) Your assuming the falsity of what you wrote elsewhere: "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." -Victor Reppert

I read the Walls passage that Paul referenced about God's glory in damnations, according to which people in heaven see that God has done everything possible to save someone but respects their freedom. Even there I don't think Walls holds that the ultimate purpose of all God's actions is to glorify himself.
That's odd. That's not how I read him:

"[God's] ultimate purpose of glorifying himself by demonstrating his love to all persons is fully achieved even in the event that some persons persist in rejecting it . . . [this is because] If we accept his love, he is glorified in our flourishing; if we persist in rejecting it, he is glorified when it becomes utterly obvious that we cannot be truly happy apart from him." --Jerry Walls, "Reply to Talbott" in Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, (eds. Peterson and Vanarragon), Blackwell, 2004, p. 288, emphasis supplied.

That looks like "God's ultimate purpose is glorifying himself."

Since God has a purpose in everything he does, then that is to ultimately glorify himself. If I asked what was the ultimate purpose for any act, therefore, God would have to say, "To glorify myself."

I don't see your reading of Walls in Walls at all.

Now, the Calvinist can respond by saying that there is a purpose for reprobations, even though we have no clue as to what it is. In fact, Paul constantly reminds me that I said that there have to be possibilities for God that we are not in a position to consider. However, unlike Paul, I am kind of agnostic about what will transpire eschatologically, or how it works.
I broke this down and said that in the one sense we do not know, but I don't see how we have a problem here, at all (i.e., preterition). In the other sense, God's purpose is to execute justice on the sinner. Reppert granted that this was acceptable. Since justly punishing the worthy is good, then I have no clue what Reppert's problem could possibly be . . . other than to say that God must not pass by some sinners. I don't see how that argument could be made, and remain faithful to the text of Scripture, at all.

Furthermore, if you are agnostic about what will transpire eschatologically, then you are in an even worse position to argue that there is no good God can bring about by in reprobation. One would take it that you are agnostic about my position as well, or how it works. I really don't see how you have a leg to stand on in giving a positive argument against my position, at all. It appears you've granted the major premise of the skeptical theist argument. If that argument works against atheists, it works against you.

My conclusion is if people are reprobated there is no understandable reason why this is so. It is completely and totally beyond my comprehension. I can't even see through a glass darkly how this could possibly be justified. The reasons that are offered for reprobating people don't work even on their own terms. That doesn't make the position impossible to hold, just, at least to my mind, a whole lot more difficult. Everyone uses mystery maneuvers at some point (even materialists!) but the less you use them, the more epistemically adequate your position.
i) Again, you make the illegitimate question begging move from "noseeum" to "thereisnun."

ii) We have a positive case in Christian theism's metaphysical, epistemological, and anthropomorphic claims to the extent that we would not expect to know these things. Thus, we should be skeptical toward thye idea that God does not have a good reason for the evil he allows. Welty concludes,

Third, I take Alston as having, in any case, fulfilled Swinburne's requirement; he has given "positive argument for supposing that certain appearances rather than others are misleading" (Swinburne, 1998, 28). Namely, those 'appearances' into which the concept of God enters as part of its description are misleading, to the extent that we have not reflected upon the relationship between the cognitive abilities of that God, and our own cognitive limitations. We can interpret Alston as holding that 'it appears that p' (where p is 'God could not have a morally compelling reason for permitting this evil') would be misleading, if the aspect of 'God' being considered is merely that he is a perfectly good being. But if, in addition to his perfect goodness, his perfect wisdom and power are equally considered - that is, if it is truly the concept of God (and not a scaled-down substitute) which enters into the content of p in 'it appears that p' - then cause for scepticism as to the rational acceptability of p is due to enter in. It was the burden of Alston's article to argue this point at length. He initially concedes to the atheist his 'it appears that p' only because he is convinced that further reflection on the content of p will make p well-nigh indefensible.
iii) Just to point out again, there is only no understandable reason why in regards to preterition. But I have pointed out that not knowing why isn't problematic. We have no to reason to think God has to redeem all mankind. He is free in this respect. He was free to create the world, he is free to create a new heart in sinners.

Perhaps Reppert will argue that God did not have to redeem everyone, but he should have. Since he could have, he should have. But that's not a solid inference pattern. Why should we think a thing like that? Is God morally obligated to change a sinners nature? I don't see why.

And, how is this not reversible? If God ought to have redeemed everyone to make sure they don't go to hell, ought he have not made some people to make sure they didn't go to hell of their own free will? Where's the moral justification for creating people you knew would go to hell? Thier born. Live a life in a sinful world. Have good days and bad. Then die and spend eternity in hell. When someone asks Victor's God how that is morally justified, will the reply that "But I gave them free will," be sufficient? How, for Victor, is that any better than "I did it for my glory?"

iv) As regards condemnation, those reasons do work on their (and your) terms.

v) Is Reppert's position on God more mysterious than the Muslim's? After all, Reppert believes in the Trinity. As well as the Incarnation? Indeed, it now looks like two cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, compared to other religions, are less epistemically adequate! One might want to argue that if (one or) two cardinal doctrines of faith A are epistemically inadequate indexed to (one or) two cardinal doctrines of faith B, one should opt for B over A. Reppert might argue that, as a whole, Christian theism is more rational than B. And so I would argue that, even granting his epistemic inadequacy point, the Calvinist picture, taken as a whole for the Christian, is much more rational, and faithful to the text and God's nature, than the alternatives.

vi) The Christian's life is a life of trust in God. To point out that I must trust God doesn't strike me as something that is epistemically blameworthy.

vii) What is the "good reason" for Bambi suffering in the forest fire?

viii) What is the good reason for God creating people that he knew would go to hell forever? To resort to "agnosticism about eschatological things" is what I have done about God's purposes in preterition! (Except I know that he has a good reason). Indeed, you appealed to mystery but then wouldn't let me! Thus your argument is ultimately incoherent.

ix) You frequently refuse to debate the text, resorting, rather, to claims about "disagreements between experts." You don't have to argue for your views because you resort to agnosticism. You even said you may not be able to figure the text out, but if your intuitions tell you that the text is teaching an immorality, then you'll say "There has to be another interpretation, even if I don't know what it is!". So, your argument against me is simply hypocritical. It's just window dressing to hide the fact that us Calvinists can provide answers to all your questions. Not only that, we have the better exegetical argument too. So, to resist the force of Calvinism you have had to appeal to mystery after mystery after mystery. And add to that appeal to mysterious intuitions that you've still never quite spelled out how, exactly, they conflict with Calvinism. You just "feel" that they do . . . somewhere.

What I have shown here is that Calvinists cannot solve the problem of the evil of eternal suffering in hell, in the sense that they can't provide any understandable reason for it. This is a narrower claim than what I began with, but it is still not completely without significance for the credibility of Calvinism.
i) You can't solve your problems either:

ii) Tell me why God doesn't turn all knives and bullets to cotton the minute they are
about to strike another person? Agents would still be free. One doesn't need actual steel blades to be free, correct? Why didn't God at least not create those people he knew would be child molesters?

iii) Why not only instantiate those people who repented or "accepted the light" rather than ones he knew would go to hell?

iv) And, if Universalism, why all the evil? Does God really need a little child to be molested in order to get everyone to heaven? And, since Talbott argues that God "removes their delusion" so that they can freely chose heaven, why didn't he do it sooner? Why not immediately? Why not after the first sin? The first 100 sins? Instead of the 10 million cases of child rape, why couldn't there have been 1 less?

v) I've dealt with your different options, thus agnosticism doesn't help you here. Can you tell me why all these evils happen? If you can't, you don’t really have a leg to stand on with regards your critique of Calvinism.

vi) I'd go one further, given we're all in the above boat, the Calvinist position is the best one to have. It offers the most comfort. God is in control . . . of everything. There's no chance that he will be over taken by that which he has no control over. He ordained it all for a good reason. And, he entered into it with us. He ordained the embarrassing death of his Son. He predetermined the greatest evil and turned it into the greatest good. He knew Satan wouldn't win. He knew Jesus wouldn't have to wander around looking for someone to murder him because "freedumb" kept getting in the way of the plan. Knowing God ordains all the evil in the world is actually a great comfort for us Calvinists. And truth be told, all Christians act like Calvinists when your world comes to a halt. There's no Arminians in foxholes. When the storm comes, my rock is stronger than theirs.

Arminians can "solve" the problem of reprobation in the sense that considerations from their own theology make it somewhat understandable, though hardly problem-free.

Saying so doesn't make it so.

It's my contention, however, that the more you appeal to mystery, the worse it is for you epistemically.
Appeal to mystery has always been at the heart of Christianity, rationalist's complaints notwithstanding. That's just par for the course when dealing with a sui generis being. An infinite plan. A God's who's "thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways." Man has always attempted to blur the Creator/creature distinctions. It began in the garden.

The more of an explanation you can have for suffering, the better your theology is, all things being equal.

Answers to suffering:

Calvinism: God ordained it and willingly permitted it for a good reason. He's in control. Justice will be served.

Arminianism: S**t happens 'cause we have a freedom God can't control.

Universalism: Live like hell, tomorrow we dine in heaven!

Annhilationism: Life sucks, and then you die.

I end with Reppert's spot on observation.

Victor Reppert: "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."