Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Law

Reppert’s latest salvo:

“On the Calvinistic view, God is in a position such that he can bring it about that no one needs to be reprobated. God can do that by decreeing that they not sin or by decreeing that they receive redemption.”

True. And what about Reppert’s alternative? He’s a libertarian. But he’s also indicated that universalism is a viable option.

But if, according to Reppert, it’s possible for God to save everyone without infringing on their libertarian freewill, then it’s presumably possible for God to eliminate many of the horrendous evils which some of us experience in this world without infringing on our libertarian freewill.

“I didn't really intend for my claim to rest on the fine points of Kantian ethical theory. The Second Formulation has an intuitive appeal, why? The idea of someone being simply exploited is obnoxious to us.”

Now he’s introduced the loaded word “exploitation” into the debate. Whether or not that’s intuitively obnoxious depends on how he defines and illustrates his terms.

“I thought I provided a common-sense account of what it is for someone to be treated as a mere means. If another person's interests are completely set aside so that one's own goals can be accomplished, this is using a person as a mere means. Slavery and seduction would be paradigm cases of using persons as a means.”

i) But seduction is a form of consensual behavior. Both parties get something out of that transaction. It’s in their perceived mutual self-interest.

Moreover, many human beings don’t find the concept of seduction to be intuitively obnoxious. For them, as long as sex is consensual, it’s permissible.

So it’s hard to see how this paradigm-case even begins to illustrate Reppert’s contention.

ii) As to “slavery,” that, again, depends on what we mean. For example, every few years we read about a high-profile investor (or investment firm) who ripped off his clients.

Supposed the crooked investor were put on a work farm to make financial restitution to the clients he defrauded. That would be a form of forced labor. I assume that would meet Reppert’s definition of “slavery.”

Is the notion that a crooked investor should be forced to repay his clients “intuitively obnoxious”?

“Here interests need not be given any especially hedonistic definition. I take it that Calvinists agree that the interests of a created person are served when that person can ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ Whether using violence to their will or not, the Calvinistic God guarantees that reprobates act in such a way that they spoil their chance at permanent happiness, and exist in irretrievable misery. No interest of these persons is taken seriously, these are all completely frustrated in the interests of fulfilling God's purpose either for himself (glory) or for the blessed (object lessons showing them he graciousness of their salvation). In ordinary contexts this would be a paradigmatic case of exploitation.”

i) If Reppert defines “exploitation” to denote using a person as a mere means, then that example fails to meet his criteria:

The Westminster Confession says the “chief end of man is to glorify and to enjoy him forever.”

Notice the key qualifiers.

i) That’s the chief end of man, not the only end of man.

ii) The chief end of man is subdivided into two different ends: (a) to glorify God; (a) to enjoy God.

The reprobate glorify God. Therefore, they achieve one of their chief ends.

In that case, it’s simply false to say that God uses them as a mere means rather than an end.

iii) And even if they failed to achieve their primary end, that wouldn’t obviate secondary ends.

iv) Moreover, the Confession says “man,” not “men.” It’s not speaking of individuals qua individuals, but individuals qua representatives. The human race. A collective. A corporate entity.

And at the corporate level, it isn’t necessary for every individual to achieve the end in order for the collective achieve the end.

Therefore, this part of Reppert’s argument is a complete failure.

“I think Kant would say that if a reprobate person were to see the true nature of his actions, he would not do them. He can only act in a reprobate way by being irrational.”

That goes to an old issue. Is sin the result of ignorance? The sinner didn’t know any better?

Or is it possible to sin in conscious defiance of what is good and true? In aggravated cases, to sin for the sake of evil, where defiance of the good becomes an end in itself?

If Reppert thinks that all sin is ultimately due to ignorance, then he needs to argue that point, not take it for granted.

“The fact that God can, without violence to their will, bring it about that people act irrationally and undermine their own best interests does not mean that they are not being exploited, any more than someone who plays on the irrational greed of someone in order to bilk them out of their money is exploiting them, even though they are not committing violence to their will.”

i) What does he mean to “undermine their own best interests”? Is he still defining his terms according to the Westminster Confession? If so, then I’ve responded to that argument.

ii) If, on the other hand, he means that God isn’t doing all he can to benefit the individual, and if he regards that as a problem for Calvinism, then that objection is hardly limited to Calvinism. Even on Reppert’s view, the world is chock-full of preventable evils. In the world we see around us, it’s far from clear that God is doing all he can to benefit each individual.

“Is it right to sacrifice the interests of a rational creature for the accomplishment of one's own goals?”

i) Reppert is surely aware of the distinction between prima facie duties and actual duties. What is permissible or obligatory, all things being equal, and what is permissible or obligatory, all things considered.

For example, I think it’s intuitively obvious that an individual can, through certain forms of culpable conduct, forfeit some of the rights and immunities to which he’d ordinarily be entitled.

Suppose we are engaged in a just war. We are defending ourselves against an unprovoked attack.

Suppose we discover a spy in our midst. He’s feeding classified intel to the enemy. Since he doesn’t know that we’ve fingered him as the source of the leak, we take advantage of the situation. We feed him disinformation. We send him on a suicide mission. We “exploit” him to achieve our strategic objective.

Perhaps Reppert would say we’re using him as a mere means to further our interests at the expense of his interests. So what? Under the circumstances, that type of manipulation doesn’t strike me as being “intuitively obnoxious.”

“Is it right to raise rational creatures as food? For the purpose of doing slave labor?”

Is it right to sentence a crooked investor to “slave labor” to reimburse his clients?

“If we could create conscious androids with the kind of rich inner life as we have, would we be justified in treating them the worst plantation owners treated Negro slaves? After all we created them, so we can use the ‘potter argument’ from Romans 9 to justify doing whatever the hell we want with them?”

Of course, in Rom 9, God is dealing with sinful clay.

What’s incongruous about Reppert is that he’s raising moralistic objections to Calvinism, yet, in so doing, Reppert exercises absolutely no moral discrimination. He acts as if guilt and innocence are morally inconsequential. So Reppert’s moralistic critique of Calvinism is fundamentally amoral.

“Well, here is where the real conflict lies. Does God's glory justify all of this, or the benefit of the blessed. My first question has to be "What glory does God get, and what benefit to the blessed get?" I don't see any.”

I, for one, have answered that question in some detail–on more than one occasion.

“But if you can accept a ‘divine glory’ theory of the good, and then be persuaded that reprobation maximizes that good, then you can get around my argument.”

Been there, done that.

“It is one thing to make the case that a position is itself morally repugnant. It is another thing to hold that a position has logical entailments not recognized by adherents of the position lead to morally repugnant conclusions. You have suspected that I have open theist leanings, and I do. Bill Hasker is both one of the founding fathers of the AFR, and the chief philosophical defender of open theism.”

But isn’t there a tension between Reppert’s sympathies for open theism and his sympathies for universalism? If open theism is true, then how can God ensure the salvation of everyone? He can’t foresee that outcome. And he can’t enact that outcome.

“Bill Craig thinks middle knowledge is the way out. They don't think they have to justify unconditional reprobation.”

i) I don’t know what Reppert means by “unconditional reprobation.” Calvinism doesn’t teach unconditional reprobation. Calvinism teaches unconditional election. But election and reprobation are, in some respects, asymmetrical.

Demerit is a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition of reprobation.

ii) As I recall, Craig has admitted that, according to Molinism, there are some people who will be damned in this world who’d be saved in another world. Yet God chose to instantiate this world, where they will be damned–rather than another world, where they will be saved.

So God isn’t acting in their best interests.

“The fact that many people, even conservative Christians, are willing to take the step of going to open theism instead of to Calvinism when they become persuaded that reconciliations of foreknowledge and freedom don't work is ample evidence that there is something repugnant, at least to them, about Calvinism.”

I’m sure that if you were to poll the residents of Pandemonium, they’d also express their disapproval at the ways of God.

“There is nothing in the character of sinners that merits salvation for them. However, the character of God is such that He will save anyone who can possibly be saved.”

Which begs the question.

“And is a redeemed world better than an unfallen world? Do you have a model of each in a petri dish so we can compare? In C. S. Lewis's Perelandra the Un-man uses the Fortunate Fall argument to try to seduce the Green Lady of Venus to fall. I don't see why failure to fall should have cost the world the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.”

Doesn’t that pose a dilemma for Reppert? We inhabit a fallen world. A world in which the Son of God became incarnate to redeem sinners.

i) If Reppert doesn’t like the sticker price of redemption, then isn’t that an objection to Christianity in general rather than Calvinism in particular? If the benefits don’t outweigh the costs, then isn’t Reppert agreeing with the argument from evil? Agreeing with the atheist that the problem of evil disproves or undermines the existence of a God?

ii) And what about the price tag. I believe that Reppert has a daughter. In an unfallen world, his daughter wouldn’t exist. As his pal, Bob Adams has pointed out, an unfallen world would have a different set of inhabitants than a fallen world.

Does Reppert think the best possible world is a world where his daughter was never born? How much is his daughter worth to him? Is he prepared to throw her over the back of the sled for a better world–as he defines it?

iii) Moreover, for someone who’s so enamored with the outlook of C. S. Lewis, what about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund is redeemed by Aslan (through blood sacrifice, no less!) after he betrays his siblings?

Doesn’t Edmund’s experience of redemption reflect a distinctive good? A good unobtainable apart from betrayal and redemption?

“The total frustration of all their interests for the sake of the ends of others strikes me as treating them as mere means.”

i) If he’s still defining “all their interests” in terms of the Westminster Confession, then that doesn’t follow (see above).

ii) If, on the other hand, he’s speaking more generally, viz., his objection to everlasting punishment, then that’s hardly limited to Calvinism.

“It's easy to see that if people are given a free will, God cannot be systematically insulating the world from its effects without in effect taking that free will away. If a billy-club turns into nerf every time I try to hit someone over the head, or if I start to throw up every time I lust, I am effectively unfree. Welcome to the world of Clockwork Orange.”

Well, to paraphrase Reppert, is a libertarian world better than a sinless world? Do you have a model of each in a petri dish so we can compare? I don't see how the putative value of libertarian freedom outweighs the horrendous expense.

“I hope I have come a tad closer to giving you a sense of what makes Calvinism seem morally outrageous to many people, including Christians.”

Frankly, it reads like a legal brief prepared by Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Law.


  1. Mr. Reppert seems to be a thinking person compared to you guys. I like him. You guys are just scary.


  2. For someone who claims to value thinking persons, I notice that you didn't present a single counterargument. Where are your critical thinking skills?