Saturday, February 21, 2009

Without a clue

DC recently hosted a guest article by Bill Lobdell, one-time religion reporter for the LA Times:

No doubt John Loftus views this as a big catch for DC. And I’ll admit that if you go fishing in the toxic waste dump of atheism, sooner or later you’re bound to reel in giant mutant frog or salamander–of the two-headed variety.

Let’s evaluate some of Lobdell’s statements:

“When I wrote an essay for the Los Angeles Times in 2007 about how I lost my faith reporting on religion in America, I prepared for an avalanche of criticism. I was sure I’d be branded a tool of Satan or worse. But here’s what I didn’t expect. The vast majority of them—I’m talking 99 percent—were supportive in their own way.”

I don’t know why that’s supposed to come as such a big surprise. The LA Times is a liberal paper to begin with. And newspapers tend to self-select for like-minded readers. Would it comes as a great surprise to discover a strong correlation between the political views of Rush Limbaugh and the political views of his radio audience?

“But most readers simply thanked me for honestly expressing my doubts about faith and revealing how tortured and helpless I felt as I lost my once-firm grip on Christianity.”

His “once-firm grip?” I think it’s safe to say that religion reporters for national newspapers are pretty wishy-washy to begin with. They are chosen for their ecumenical tolerance. Their high comfort level with religious pluralism. It’s not as if the LA Times would ever hire Albert Mohler to do the religion beat.

“Several e-mails came from pastors who no longer believed in God but felt they couldn’t tell a soul.”

Imagine making faith in God a job requirement for Christian ministry! How unfair can you get!

“Another arrived from deep inside the Vatican. All said they felt like outcasts with no place to turn.”

Hopefully he didn’t sign his name “Benedict XVI.”

“It reminded me of Mother Teresa, one of the most revered religious persons of our time. She symbolized for millions the beauty of Christian devotion, sacrifice, holiness and works. But she suffered excruciating doubt. Recently published letters in Come By My Light reveal that she felt absent from God for the last 50 years of her life.”

As a Protestant, I can’t say that Mother Teresa was ever my role model. Try again.

“Several recent studies have shown that there’s little difference in the moral behavior of evangelical Christians and atheists.”

That’s a very dubious statistic, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s true. If so, what does that comparison mean, exactly?

Is Lobdell claiming that evangelicals behave like atheists–or that atheists behave like evangelicals?

For example, is he claiming that evangelicals behave as badly as atheists? How would that commend secular ethics?

Moreover, don’t atheists like Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins claim a strong correlation between religious belief and outward behavior? Don’t they claim that observant Christians are dangerous to the common good precisely because they put their fanatical faith into practice? So if Lobdell is right, then they are wrong.

“So it’s time for religious doubt to come out of the closet and be dealt openly and thoughtfully.”

I wonder if he feels the same way about scientists who privately question Darwinism. Is it time for them to publicly voice their doubts–without fear of reprisal?

“If Christianity is true, its teachers can dispel just about any doubt.”

What a ludicrous statement–as if Christian teachers have Svengali-like powers over their listeners.

“I have a different theory. I think there are so many closet doubters because people sense there’s no God who personally intervenes in their lives.”

That may be true. Many professing believers entertain false expectations. That sort of faith is easily falsified by rude experience.

“Optimistic Christians ask me if the outpouring of concern, love and support after my original essay was published restored my faith in religion. It didn’t. But it did give me a new appreciation of humanity. Most of us are doubters to one degree or another.”

If doubt is such a virtue, why doesn’t it cut both ways? He talks about his “20-year journey from evangelical Christian to reluctant atheist.” But why couldn’t “honest doubt” chart a 20-year journey from reluctant atheist to evangelical Christian?

Lobdell is very lopsided in his appeal to honest doubt. What about doubting atheism? There are, in fact, many people who started where he ended and ended where he started. Doubt is a two-way street.

“And there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone.”

Like a crowded cemetery. Rows upon rows of tombstones. Very comforting.

Public sex ed

Opponents of abstinence-only sex ed have once again been touting Bristol Palin as a disproof of abstinence-only programs. I’ll venture a few comments:

1.To my knowledge, Bristol attended public school, not a private Christian school. If, therefore, her behavior represents a failure in the sex ed curriculum, it represents a failure of the public school curriculum.

2.Abstinence-only programs were never predicated on the assumption that every teenager indoctrinated in the virtues of chastity will remain chaste.

If a 100% success rate is the liberal criterion for a successful program, then every liberal social program is an abject failure.

3.The liberal contention is that, since some teenagers are going to do it anyway, then gov’t should teach them safe sex and provide them with free contraceptives.

While we’re on the subject, I’d also note that some teenagers use digital cameras to photograph themselves having sex, then post these X-rated images on the internet.

By liberal logic, since some teenagers are going to it anyway, gov’t should provide them with free sound stages to make commercial quality porn. That would teach them a marketable skill.

Determined Choosings

It has been claimed by some laymen Arminian epologists (I have not seen this claim by any reputable Arminian philosopher or theologian) that if X is determined by God, then X cannot be a choice. In other words, if it were determined that I eat Cheerios at time t, then although I took the box of Cheerios at t rather than the Lucky Charms, even deliberating about which one to take, reaching a decision for reasons, responsive to reasons to the contrary, and figuring that instantiating a Cheerios-filled world was better than a Lucky-Charms-filled world, I nevertheless didn't choose the Cheerios at t.

Now, that the above wasn't a choice is highly counterintuitive to many people, so it seems. But besides its highly counterintuitive flavor, it has another defect; that of contradicting God's word.

To explain. I take it that it will be granted that some people choose when they will die (e.g., suicides, euthanized &c.). For example, it is fairly obvious that there has been at least one person S, that decided to die at time t. S chose to die at t. For example, perhaps S was terminally ill and brought Jack Kevorkian in to administer a lethal dose of potassium chloride at t, which would kill S at t1. Therefore, S chose to die at t1. Call the above the Suicide Pact, SP. SP simply states that:

[SP] Some people choose to die at t

For those who hold to biblical inspiration, [SP] demonstrates that one can choose to do what is determined he will do. For example, take Job 14:5:

Since man's days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.

It seems fairly obvious that some people have chosen to die in three months, after they say their goodbyes and do that "last thing". So, it seems fairly obvious that some people have chosen to number their months to X. But, X was also determined. Stated another way: God determined S to die at t, and S choose to die at t. Or, stated formally:


H = a Human being.

D = the months of the human's days are Determined at t

S = a sane being that chooses to commit Suicide at t

(x) (Hx ⊃ Dx)
(∃x) (Sx ∙ Hx) / ∴ (∃x) (Sx ∙ Dx)

One can deny either Job 14:5, or that some humans choose to die at t (where t = a month). Neither seems to be an attractive option for the orthodox Christian. Therefore, it looks as if one can choose to do what is determined he will do. It should also be easy to see that with some minor changes we can add that some people chose to die according to a free choice, and that some people who die according to a free choice are morally responsible for their actions; that, therefore, freedom and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism if one grants inerrancy. All orthodox Christians grant inerrancy. Therefore, all orthodox Christrians ought to be compatibilists.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When Fundy Atheists Attack

Got an unsolicited email from a fundy atheist the other day (under false pretenses too; actually, I know him and he has a history of emailing Christians and talking bad about their wives, families, etc., so there was some harshness). There's a lot of ways to approach the below and tons that could be said if one had the time. I took one approach. Here's a slightly edited version:

Fundy Atheist:

1.A term without a positive ontology is useless in the Universe of Discourse
2.Immaterial and Supernatural are eliminatively negative, and denote an empty set. Ie, they are negations. Both tell us what something is not, without anything left over for them to refer to, or simply be.
3. Immateriality is defined as neither matter nor energy.
4. Supernatural is defined as not nature.
5. Since there's nothing left over for these terms to refer to, and ultimately nothing left over for them to be.
6. The terms are therefore incomprehensible, incoherent, and meaningless
7. The supernatural, defined contra-nature, is beyond limits, ergo no term with ontological status can be applied to it by definition
8. Therefore, the two terms Immaterial and Supernatural are broken because they are defined solely according to what they are not, without any universe of discourse.


Most logic text books allow for definition by negation. Is the word "bachelor" then "useless" on your theory? How about the word 'bald?' Would that make your head meaningless? :-) Why does it have to be negative? Is saying that God is a pure sui generous being distinct from creation negative? Why is saying that God has no body meaningless? Makes perfect sense to me. Why is saying that he is a timeless mind meaningless? Makes sense to me. Some terms by their very nature mean not being something (see above). I see no problem here.

I should add that just like with those terms I listed above, there God has both positive and negative properties. Some negative properties logically imply positive ones. An ultimate being is self-sufficient, this looks to be a positive property. God is an omnipresent Spirit. Omnipresence is a positive property though. Being unlimited also implies being able to do whatever you will, and know all truths, and both omnipotence and omniscience are positive properties.

Fundy Atheist:

A bachelor is a man who is not married. That's hardly eliminatively empty, and man "has" positive content. There is something left over for the bald bachelor to be. If I say, this man is without a wife, or that he is without hair; we are telling you what this man is without, but indeed we know that the man is the being capable of having a wife and having hair. So, still nothing trivial about the object "man" and it's potential attributes, or the characteristics man can take on… But the terms, "hair" "wife", and "man", are all natural terms. A better example of your attempted analogy would be if you said, he is a "non" physical being.

Without a spatial location? Times less? Pure being? Exactly my point Paul, there is no"thing" there then. Pure what? Like pure water? Pure energy? Pure chocolate? "Pure being" that is distinct from matter and energy is still empty.


Where do you get the idea that God is *just* "immaterial?" Indeed, I sent you an email offering plenty of positives. I was meeting you term for term. You said the *term* "immaterial" was meaningless because negative; therefore, according to your argument, the *term* "bald" is meaningless because negative. That's called a test for validity by counterexample. So, try again.

God is capable of having a body. Ever heard of Jesus when you were a Christian?

> Immateriality is defined as neither matter nor energy.

So? Beliefs are immaterial. Minds are immaterial. Propositions are immaterial. Laws of logic are immaterial. Moral principles are immaterial. Numbers are immaterial. Etc.

> Nature is matter and energy. Then, according to you, that makes God
> distinct
> from matter and energy, then you have nothing left over for God to be. Feel
> free to define/describe God with something left over for it to be…

In my last email I gave you plenty of positives. I'm not going to repeat myself.

Also, if you believe that if something is not matter and energy then it is not meaningful, then this means that you believe that things like beliefs are matter and energy. How's that one go?

> Without a spatial location? Times less? Pure being? Exactly my point Paul,
> there is no"thing" there then. Pure what? Like pure water? Pure energy?
> Pure
> chocolate? "Pure being" that is distinct from matter and energy is still
> empty.

Yeah, a timeless mind. An omnipotent and omniscient person without a body. Pure *being*. Did I say pure chocolate? A sui generous one at that. I'm sorry, were you under the impression that repeating my words with question marks behind them counted as a substantive refutation?

Fundy Atheist

Just a quicky. Tomorrow ill send the main response, plus the response to your other email. My argument was that a term that is defined as a complete negation inwhich there is nothing positively left over, is equal to saying "nothing". Ie, incomprehensible, unintelligable and therefore meaningless. Such a term, if one is mentioned, fails to work in the domain of discourse. Bald is defined as the lack of skin. In your case. What is left Paul? The skin. The head of a physical body. Bald deosnt eliminate the body, just the hair. You exist, though you're bald. Can your God be bald? No? Why not?


> My argument was that a term that is defined as
> a complete negation inwhich there is nothing positively left over, is
> equal to saying "nothing". Ie, incomprehensible, unintelligable and
> therefore meaningless.

Well, I know what you're *saying*, but it's nothing other than
ignorance to think you've *argued* for this.

> Such a term, if one is mentioned, fails to
> work in the domain of discourse. Bald is defined as the lack of skin.

Bald is defined as the lack of "skin"? That's funny.

> In your case. What is left Paul? The skin. The head of a physical
> body. Bald deosnt eliminate the body, just the hair. You exist,
> though you're bald. Can your God be bald? No? Why not?

Let's not forget this statement is true: God has a body. God *can* be
bald, in so far as God gave Jesus that gene.

Anyway, God is essentially immaterial, you can't take it away. But God
is *more than* just immaterial, just like you are more than just bald.

I'll also go one further, take your bald head, fake-n-bake tan,
puny arms, and the rest of your body away and, guess what, you still
have you, the mind, person, soul. But you would be immaterial. An
immaterial thinking substance. And guess what, some know-nothing
benighted New Atheist wouldn't be able to prove your non-existence
with the stupid claim that since the bodiless you was immaterial,
then that's a "broken term" and so he doesn't exist. You'd still exist
along with all your other negative characteristics, e.g.,

Or, what about particles that are invisible to humans. Invisible is
negative. And, you can't take that property away otherwise they
wouldn't be the same. or, you could create new humans with different
powers of vision. But, as it is, on your view, some particles are

Anyway, God is a person. A mind. That's positive. An omnipresent
Spirit who is omnipotent and omniscient. The law-giver. God is
necessary. He is a sui generous being. In that class he is Being. He's
the creator. Those are positive. Yeah, God is immaterial too.
He's immutable. Timeless. But he's simple too, which is positive.

Look, what it boils down to is that you object because you don't think
you can be a person or a mind without a body. You think all is
physical. But if you prove physicalism, you wouldn't *need* your
convoluted argument about negative "broken" terms. If you could prove
the physicalism on which your argument logically rests, then you’d
disprove God. But you can't prove physicalism, as even you admit you
can't explain consciousness. So, since you can't demonstrate your
physicalism, it looks like you reject God for faith-based reasons.
hey, I'm not going to begrudge you your faith. I'm sure it helps you
get through life. Get through the day. As long as it helps and it
isn't harming anyone, why, by all means, continue "believing."

Fundy Atheist:

I know that God is defined as immaterial, that's the fundamental problem with the universe of discourse, anything described as such becomes useless. The burden is on you to demonstrate that the "more" is there. And what the "more" is…

> I'll also go one further, take your bald head, fake-n-bake tan,
> puny arms, and the rest of your body away and, guess what, you still
> have yourself, the mind, person, soul.

How arrogant! Pretending to know again… Prove it.

> But you would be immaterial. An
> immaterial thinking substance. And guess what, some know-nothing
> benighted New Atheist wouldn't be able to prove your non-existence
> with the stupid claim that since the bodiless you was immaterial,
> then that's a "broken term" and so he doesn't exist. You'd still exist
> along with all your other negative characteristics, e.g.,
> unintelligence.

Prove it.

> Or, what about particles that are invisible to humans. Invisible is
> negative. And, you can't take that property away otherwise they
> wouldn't be the same. or, you could create new humans with different
> powers of vision. But, as it is, on your view, some particles are
> "meaingless."

No, you have misconstrued it. Particles are visible. They are intelligible and therefore not meaningless. Plus, you mentioning them presupposes their positive distinguishment.

> Anyway, God is a person.

Prove it.

> A mind.

So you want to debate on the nature of minds? Here's a great starting point.

> That's positive. An omnipresent
> Spirit who is omnipotent and omniscient.

Ie, nothing.

> The law-giver. God is
> necessary. He is a sui generous being. In that class he is Being. He's
> the creator. Those are positive. Yeah, God is immaterial too.
> He's immutable. Timeless. But he's simple too, which is positive.

All naked assertions stemmed in conjectured nonsense.

Look, I have no choice but to start with the physical because I have nothing else to start from, until shown otherwise. I don't have faith in the physical, you have faith in the non physical. Faith is not a means to knowledge of nonphysical beings. It's theological wishful thinking, as you have proven by showing me that your descriptions are incoherent. The failure to recognize this demonstrates the great length you go to finagle your god into reality.

I have a non cognitive apriori base regarding anything beyond the physical. If there is more, please show me how you know anything, or make any claims about the "more", without illustrating the veracity of the natural. So, the burden is the one who says there is more. You say that there is more than material and the natural, fine. Prove it. Untill you do, the descriptive attributes of your "God" amount to an incoherent absurdity. That simply demonstrates that your faith is non contingent. You maintain of a Christian belief in the face of negating evidence, as I have shown throughout.. To confuse faith for a reasoned assumption or proof is simply ridiculous.


> In the midst of this exchange, which I, for the most part, find
> constructive, you have really surprised me with some of your insults. Id >appreciate
>it if you could drop the insults.

Quit acting like there are normative ethical rules that govern discourse.

> >Well, I know what you're *saying*, but it's nothing other than
>> ignorance to think you've *argued* for this.
> How have I not argued this? I showed how your concepts descriptions self
> defeat it's intelligibility. The descriptions, supernatural and immaterial,
> are both incoherent and defined by what they cannot be. And if they cannot
> "be", then they are ontologically non existent.

No, you didn't show it. You keep *telling* me that they are. Neither
I, nor *billions* of other people seem to have a problem with
intelligibility. Your view is certainly not obvious, then. You need a
better story than just *telling* me that "a negative term is
meaningless." Indeed, I proved that they aren't, viz., bald,
invisible, unintelligent, bachelor, etc. Those are *terms* and they
are meaningful yet they are defined negatively.

> >Let's not forget this statement is true: God has a body. God *can* be
> >bald, in so far as God gave Jesus that gene.
> That's a true proposition? Paul, this could be a whole new rabbit trail. Im
> surely willing to debate that one.

It's certainly true in Christian theology. So, I'm pointing out that
you have *presupposed* the falsity of Christianity. Well, if you're
gonna presuppose *that* why bother with your convoluted argument? If
you have an argument that the incarnation is false, then you don't
need your dumb argument about terms. Is any of this getting through
yet? Your grand argument rests upon the assumption that Christianity
is false. Wow. If Christianity is false, then it's false. I'll alert
the media.

> I know that God is defined as immaterial, that's the fundamental problem
> with the universe of discourse, anything described as such becomes useless.

What's the problem with having both negative and positive attributes?
Even your bald, unintelligent self has those attributes, and positive

> The burden is on you to demonstrate that the "more" is there. And what the
> "more" *is*…

No it's not. Your argument has been defeated and you can't
even see it. You made the positive claim that God is meaningless
because he's immaterial. I said that there is more to God than this. I
then gave you a list of some of those positive things. Now you say I
have to prove all of that. Notice the subtle shift. You've dropped
your stupid non-cognitive argument and have been forced to make a new
argument, viz., theists can't prove that their God exists. Okay,
that's interesting and worthy of debate, but it's not the argument you
started with. I beat that argument and now you're running to a new

>> I'll also go one further, take your bald head, fake-n-bake tan,
>> puny arms, and the rest of his body away and, guess what, you still
>> have you, the mind, person, soul.
> How arrogant! Pretending to know again… Prove it.

Not quite. Your argument *presupposes* that man does not have a soul
or irreducible, non-reductive immaterial mind, or is a simple
substance. So, how arrogant indeed! Can you prove these grandiose claims.

So, you need to prove all these things that your argument implies.

From my end, it seems to me that the mind has qualities that no
physical thing has, e.g., intentionality, qualia, subjectivity,
irreducible normative actions like choices.

I am convinced by many of these arguments. So, to show ME that your
argument works I would have to deny all of these OTHER arguments I
accept and for strong reasons, thus I'd need some good reasons from
YOU to reject them. In other words, you've not presented ME with any
reason to accept your argument. Now, YOU may like your argument, but
that's because it depends on physicalism. But, as I said, if you think
physicalism is true, then you don't need your non-cog argument.
Physicalism is enough. Thus, even for you, your non-cog argument is

> No, you have misconstrued it. Particles are visible. They are intelligible
> and therefore not meaningless. Plus, you mentioning them presupposes their
> positive distinguishment.

Well, many aren't. Their *effects* in things like cloud chambers may
be, but *they* aren't. Anyway, to make it easier for your bald head to
wrap around, try: "invisible to the naked human eye." So, take this
away and we have a messed up world with the smallest bonding particles
being visible to the naked human eye!

>> Anyway, God is a person.
> Prove it.

See, you lost. You do see this, don't you? I am telling you
God's positive properties. Let's do it this way:

Fundy Atheist: Immaterial is negative so it is meaningless.

Paul: Bald is negative, so it's meaningless, so your head is meaningless.

Fundy Atheist: No, there are positive properties to me, like, I'm a man with a body.

Paul: No, there are positive properties to God, like he's a omnipresent Spirit.

Fundy Atheist: [leaves original argument] Prove it!

Paul: Ummm, you left your original argument. If you don't think any
one can prove that there exists a God and so that is reason to not
believe in him, even though this is a bad argument, it still makes
your original argument superfluous. Oh, BTW, "prove" that you're a
"man" with a "body." Maybe you're a robot? Maybe you're a brain in a
vat? Maybe you're a disembodied soul that is being tricked by a
Cartesian demon to think he has a body?

>> A mind.
> So you want to debate on the nature of minds? Here's a great starting
> point.

You've been forced to flee your argument. I simply gave you
positive properties.

>> That's positive. An omnipresent
>> Spirit who is omnipotent and omniscient.
> Ie, nothing.

So that's what your argument has been reduced to. I give you positive
properties and you say, "i.e., nothing." How sad to see such a
towering intellect fall.

>> The law-giver. God is
>> necessary. He is a sui generous being. In that class he is Being. He's
>> the creator. Those are positive. Yeah, God is immaterial too.
>> He's immutable. Timeless. But he's simple too, which is positive.
> All naked assertions stemmed in conjectured nonsense.

You're claim that you are a man with a physical body are naked
assertions in conjectured nonsense.

You're forgetting your argument. You said God was meaningless because
he is only defined negatively. I gave you other standard ways God has
been understood for millennia. That is, I pointed out the special
pleading of your argument. Indeed, if you think saying "All naked
assertions stemmed in conjectured nonsense" counts as a refutation,
then why not say that when people say God is immaterial? Just tell
them, "All naked assertions stemmed in conjectured nonsense," and you
don't even need your stupid non-cog argument. I believe that God
exists. I have arguments for this. It is warranted. Etc. So, I am
warranted in saying God is those things. Therefore I would need actual
arguments from you to overturn my belief. In other words, you've not
given me any reason to deny God. I answered your dumb non-cog argument
and your case has now been reduced to school yard, "prove it" stuff.
You're reaching. You can't defend your ORIGINAL argument anymore and
so you're playing the old "prove it" game. But, I think you're a
waste of time and I'm not going to spend my time doing that. You
refuse to accept any of the proofs. The real issue here is does your
non-cog argument give a theist any reason to reject God. I've proved
that it doesn't. I've also proved that what your non-cog argument
presupposes is, were it true, all you would need to reject theism.
Your non-cog argument, even for you, is therefore superfluous.

> Look, I have no choice but to start with the physical because I have
> nothing
> else to start from, until shown otherwise.

Well, I don't accept physicalism and so your argument has no force for me.

Also, I start with the truth of the Christian worldview and have seen
nothing better to start from, until shown otherwise.

>I don't have faith in the
> physical, you have faith in the non physical.

Keep telling yourself that.

> I have a non cognitive apriori base regarding anything beyond the physical.

Right, so drop laws of logic, beliefs, propositions, possible worlds,
numbers, ethics, universals, norms, etc. A worldview that must deny
such things isn't attractive to me. I guess it is to you. It would be
funny if not so sad.

> If there is more, please show me how you know anything, or make any claims
> about the "more", without illustrating the veracity of the natural.

No, you need to show me that the term God is meaningless, remember.

> So,
> the
> burden is the one who says there is more. You say that there is more than
> material and the natural, fine. Prove it.

You say there is not more than material and natural, fine. Prove it.

> Untill you do, the descriptive
> attributes of your "God" amount to an incoherent absurdity.

Ooooo, the "Fundyatheistsaidit" argument.

>> as even you admit you
>> can't explain consciousness.
> My not explaining it deson't conclude it's immaterial. Im just temporally
> limited intellectually. Maybe in 100 years they figure it out. So, I don't
> pretend to know, like you. So I guess your tangent here about my
> physicalism
> limitations is moot.

Ooooo, faith appeals. I like that. Maybe in 100 years... ;-)

Um, I can conceive of existing without my body. It thus looks possible
that I could. I would be an immaterial mind, and I wouldn't be

I can conceive of waking of in your body, yet I would still be the
same person. So, the person doesn't seem identical to their body.

My mind appears to have qualities that no material thing has (see
above), so it wouldn't, a la Leibniz's law of identity, be material.

> Since "supernatural" and" immaterial" are incoherent and incomprehensible
> terms, I reject the descriptions of "God" by default.

Me and billions of other people, atheist and theist alike, seem to
have no problem believe that immaterial entities exist, I guess we'd
need to see an actual argument for the above. Seems we all use those
terms quite well and think they're meaningful, we need more your repeated assertions to get us to change our mind.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Compatibilism About Moral Responsibility

S is morally responsible for sinning even if S* caused S to sin.

Matt. 18:6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Proceeding via Arminian rules of logical inference -

The dictionary defines cause as:

1. a person or thing that acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific thing happens as a result; the producer of an effect:

The common man understands cause to mean this.

This Bible was written to the common man.

The Bible teaches compatibilism.

"God is the Gospel"

I’ve been asked to comment on one aspect of John Piper’s theology. I’ll be commenting on some representative passages from two of his books:
Today—as in every generation—it is stunning to watch the shift away from God as the all-satisfying gift of God’s love. It is stunning how seldom God himself is proclaimed as the greatest gift of the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the best and final gift of God’s love is the enjoyment of God’s beauty.
i) This is true. But we need to be clear on how we are to enjoy God’s beauty.

ii) On a related note, while Christians ought to foster a heavenly-minded outlook, we need to be clear on the limitations of that exercise. As long as we’re living here-below, we cannot assume the viewpoint of someone living in heaven—for the simple reason that we lack that experience to draw upon. We don’t know, specifically, what it’s like.

To some extent, it’s unavoidable that we will use our earthly experience as a point of reference for heaven. And if the final state is earthly, then there’s a genuine correspondence between the two, although we must make allowance for obvious differences between a fallen world and cosmic renewal.

So how do we cultivate a heavenly-minded outlook? In part by developing whatever hints the Bible drops our way. And by extrapolating from our earthly experience. This, in turn, takes two forms: (i) mentally negating the sinful features of life on earth while (ii) mentally enhancing the natural features of life on earth.

iii) This is also bound up with your eschatology: with your view of the final state. If you subscribe to a Catholic view of the final state, where you equate the final state with the beatific vision, then this will be more ethereal. Heaven will be a negation of earthly experience.

If, on the other hand, you equate the final state with life on the new earth, then you will have a more positive conception of the afterlife. Your earthly experience will furnish a basis of comparison.

iv) We also need to distinguish between the intermediate state and the final state. When people talking about going to heaven after they die, what they have in mind is the intermediate state.

Here we can use our dream world as a frame of reference. We can also use the inspired dreams in Scripture to help us form a conception.
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
i) That’s not a bad question, but there’s a danger here for creating a false dichotomy. For example, whatever friends I take with me to heaven will be better there than they were on earth. And they will be better on account of Christ. All their best traits will be enhanced, and all their sinful traits will be eradicated. So it’s not as if my enjoyment of their company is in competition with Christ. It’s not as if they take his place.

They are what they are because of him. They are more Christ-like in heaven. In their glorified state they reveal something of Christ. It’s a mistake to turn this into a rivalry of affections.
When I say that God Is the Gospel mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment.
Can we really say that our people are being prepared for heaven. Where Christ himself, not his gifts, will be the supreme pleasure?… Nothing fits a person to be more useful on earth than to be more ready for heaven. This is true because readiness for heaven means taking pleasure in beholding the Lord Jesus, and beholding the glory of the Lord means being changed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).
The problem with this statement, and Piper makes a number of like statements, is that I don’t know what it means, exactly. He draws a lovely picture, but what does the picture stand for?

How, precisely, does he think we will experience Christ when we get to heaven? Presumably he doesn’t think we will spend eternity in a frozen gaze at the human face of Christ. So this is a metaphor. A metaphor of what? What’s the literal truth behind the metaphor?

Is he talking about the physical presence of Christ? Strictly speaking, the human body of Christ can’t be everywhere at once. Christ can’t be physically present to 10 billion saints at one time.

Does Piper think that each of us will enjoy individual access to Christ? That we will be in his company everyday, the way a man can be with his wife day in and day out?

Or does he think it will be in small groups? Or even mass gatherings?

I’m not being facetious. I’m genuinely curious about what he has in mind. And I’m not trying to raise logistical problems.

Although the human body of Christ can’t be everywhere at once, yet it’s possible for Christ to manifest himself in more than one place at a time. A Christophany.

But I’d like to know, specifically and literally, what Piper envisions. It’s an important question because he’s telling Christians they should be more heavenly-minded. But, in that event, we need to have the target in plain sight. Before we can contemplate heaven, we need a clear idea of what heaven is like.

Does he think Jesus will walk with us and talk with us? I don’t believe there’s any logistical impediment to that arrangement, if this is what he has in mind. But I’d like a clearer idea of what the picture-language stands for. What is the actual object of our mediation? What are we supposed to imagine when Piper admonishes his fellow Christians to be more heavenly-minded? What should we anticipate when we look forward to heaven?

My concern is the Piper is trying to instill a sense of obligation on the part of Christians. Change their outlook. Discourage them from one way of looking at the world, and encourage them to replace that with a different outlook—both about this world and the world to come.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as he’s correct. But there’s a danger, here, of making us dissatisfied for no good reason. Making us feel unhappy or guilty about innocent pleasures.

Conversely, there’s the corollary danger of trying to implant an artificial feeling to take its place. An artificial feeling we don’t have and can’t have. We try to suppress our natural longings and then attempt to muster other longings to take their place. And when, despite our best efforts, we can’t bring ourselves to feel the way we’re “supposed” to feel, we become discouraged.

But what if we’re missing the target because we’re aiming at the wrong target? It’s a target we can never hit because we were never meant to hit that target. That’s not what heaven is really like. We don’t yearn for that outcome because we weren’t designed to feel that way.
Why does he call us “adulteresses” when we pray? It’s because we ask God for things to indulge our desires that are not desires for him.
In other words, gratitude that is pleasing to God is not first a delight in the benefits God gives (though that will be part of it).
The problem with this—and Piper makes many like statements—is the implication that we should desire God for himself and in himself—in contrast to what he’s made or what he does for us. The problem with this is twofold:

i) There’s an asymmetry between God’s love for us and our love for God. God’s love for the elect is truly disinterested. God has nothing to gain. He doesn’t love us because he needs us or wants something from us.

By contrast, we are needy, dependent creatures. Indeed, that’s intrinsic to our creatureliness. Therefore, our love of God can never be purely disinterested. While it may seem pious to put it that way, and sincerely so, it actually infringes on the categorical difference between the Creator and the creature. We creatures cannot duplicate that kind of love. That is distinctive to God.

As such, it’s psychologically and metaphysically artificial to hold human beings to this inhuman standard.

ii) In addition, what is God like in himself? Well, God exists outside of time and space. This means that, metaphysically speaking, God is utterly remote from human experience. His mode of subsistence is far removed from our own.

As a consequence, we have no direct access to God. No direct experience of God.

As such, God must make himself available to us. And he does so through creaturely means. That’s the only way of experiencing God. God in himself is forever out of reach.

So it’s artificial to suggest that we should value God in himself, apart from what he does. Apart from what he made.

To take an example, the Berlin wall divided families. They could no longer see each other, touch each other, or to speak to each other face-to-face. Suppose the only way I could maintain contact with my brother is through letters we exchange. It would be a bit artificial to say I should love my brother in himself, apart from his letters. For as a practical matter, that’s how he makes himself available to me. That’s how he comes to me. The letters are all I have of him.

Yes, the letters are merely a medium. They point to something beyond themselves. They point to the correspondent. Still, the medium is all I have. I don’t have the correspondent in himself. That’s why I have the correspondence. Yet there’s a sense in which I have the correspondent in his correspondence. That’s how he presents himself to me.

Incidentally, this is more than a metaphor. In the case of Scripture, this is literally true. While it’s figurative for natural revelation, it’s literal for special revelation.
Maybe our problem in dealing with God and the gospel is that we are not grateful.” Well, that is certainly part of our problem. But it is not our main problem. That diagnosis does not go to the root of the problem because it is possible to feel truly thankful to someone for a gift and not love the giver.
You would not be honored if I thanked you often for your gifts to me but had no deep and spontaneous regard for you as a person. You would feel insulted, no matter how much I thanked you for your gifts. If your character and personality do not attract me or give me joy in being around you, then you will just feel used, like a tool or a machine to produce the things I really love.
i) First of all, I wish Piper would draw a distinction between the reprobate and the regenerate. It’s true that the reprobate divorce the gift from the giver. They want the gift rather than the giver. But is that a normal dichotomy for the regenerate?

ii) Another problem with this statement is that God’s gifts aren’t like the average birthday gift or Christmas present or Valentine.

Generally speaking, when we give gifts, they don’t reveal very much about us. For one thing, we generally buy presents. Mass manufactured items. They were made by someone else. And their appeal is deliberately generic—to sell more products.

Nothing wrong with that. I don’t say this as a criticism. My point is simply that it’s easier to divorce the gift from the giver when the gift reveals nothing specific about the giver.

But suppose I’m a painter. For her birthday, I paint a picture for my wife—just for her. That’s quite different. I made that gift. I used my own talents to make that gift. A painting reveals a lot about the painter. About his personality. His values. His outlook.

Same thing with God’s handiwork. Yes, it’s other than God. But it’s inherently revelatory. When a Christian values something from God’s own hand, he automatically values something about God in the process. About his wisdom and power. That’s what makes it valuable in the first place. The divine craftsmanship. The beauty. The ingenuity. What is by God is about God. That’s built into the product.
Suffice it to say here that God created what is not God. Therefore it is good that what is not God exists. The reason that God created what is not God is that this was the best way for God to display his glory to beings other than himself.
And created media always succeed in that respect. Every divine artifact bears witness to the Creator. Sinners may resist that attestation, but it’s there.
Why did God create bread and design human beings to need it for life? He could have created life that has no need of food. He is God. He could have done it any way he pleased. Why bread? And why hunger and thirst? My answer is very simple: He created bread so that we would have some idea of what the Son of God is like when he says, ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35). And he created the rhythm of thirst and satisfaction so that we would have some idea of what faith in Christ is like when Jesus said, ‘He who believes in me shall never thirst’ (John 6:35). God did not have to create beings who need food and water, and who have capacities for pleasant tastes.
i) This strikes me as a pretty bad argument. Why did God create sheep and design wolves to eat sheep? He could have created lifeforms that have no need of mutton. He is God. He could have done it any way he pleased. Why sheep? And why hunger and thirst? My answer is very simple: He created sheep so that wolves would have some idea of what the Son of God is like when he says, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).

And he created the rhythm of thirst and satisfaction so that camels would have some idea of what faith in Christ is like when Jesus said, ‘He who believes in me shall never thirst’ (John 6:35).

Why did God create the nose? So that Calvin could compare the Scriptures to a pair of spectacles. You get the point.

ii) Piper’s argument is circular. It’s true that God didn’t have to make human beings—with bodies, senses, and appetites. But by the same token, if God hadn’t made human beings—with bodies, senses, and appetites—then there would be no need for spiritual metaphors drawn from the sensible world. Indeed, there would be no need for a divine incarnation in the first place.

So it’s inadequate to say that God made the sensible world, as well as embodied creatures, for the sole purpose of illustrating spiritual truths. For that pedagogical necessity is necessitated by a corporeal existence—not vice versa.

iii) I don’t object to the idea that God designed the sensible world as a metaphor for the spiritual world. That’s why natural objects function as natural metaphors to illustrate a host of moral and spiritual truths. But Piper’s getting carried away.

The deeper problem is his inability to think of finite goods as intrinsic goods. For him, they are only a means to an end. They have no value in their own right.

But that’s an odd way of viewing a divine artifact. To go back to my example, after the painter gives his wife a painting, suppose she takes one look at the painting, thanks him, then throws it away. For her, the painting isn’t worthwhile in itself. It’s only worthwhile as a token of her husband’s affection. Having demonstrating his affection by giving her this gift, it’s served its purpose. So she can toss it in the dumpster.

Is that the proper response? I don’t think so.
There is nothing in heaven or on earth that I desire besides you, O God. That must mean, first, that if every other good thing were lost, Asaph would still rejoice in God. And it must mean, second, that in and through all the other good things on earth and in heaven, Asaph sees God and loves him. Everything is desired for what it shows of God.
To begin with, this is a bit hyperbolic. Obviously Asaph had other desires. Natural appetites.

His exclamation is a way of expressing ultimate priorities through the use of hyperbole.
So the question must be faced: How do we use the created world around us, including our own bodies, to help us fight for joy in God? In God, I say! Not in nature. Not in music. Not in health. Not in food or drink. Not in natural beauty. How can all these good gifts serve joy in God, and not usurp the supreme affections of our hearts?

Our situation as physical creatures is precarious. The question we are asking is not peripheral. It addresses the dangerous condition we are in. We are surrounded by innocent things that are ready to become idols. Innocent sensations are one second away from becoming substitutes for the sweetness of God. Should we use mood music and dim lighting and smoke and incense to create an atmosphere that conduces to good feelings and “spiritual” openness? You can feel the dangers of manipulation lurking just below the surface.
i) First of all, we need to distinguish divine artifacts from human artifacts. In this life, a human artifact is bound to reflect an admixture of common grace, natural revelation, and sin. And the proportions greatly vary from one artifact to another.

ii) But that’s hardly comparable in the case of a divine artifact. As such, it’s a mistake to treat God’s handiwork as if it were spiritually perilous. As if you can only enjoy God’s handiwork in small doses—because it’s toxic in large doses. I don’t think that’s a proper attitude to assume in relation to what God has wrought.

Piper is far too fearful about the natural enjoyment of natural goods. Yes, this must be done in moderation. Yes, we must respect Biblical boundaries.

But we’re talking about something essentially good. And revelatory. Why shouldn’t we enjoy God’s handiwork to the full? Revel in the work of his hands? Indeed, glory in his handwork? Isn’t that a way to glorify God?

One of the oddities of life in a fallen world is that unbelievers value the gift rather than the giver while believers frequently value the giver rather than the gift.

In his autobiography, Kenneth Clark relays an anecdote about his mentor, Bernard Berenson. Berenson was the great art critic of his generation. Yet Berenson, who had seen all the world’s finest works of art, was a greater nature lover than art lover. There was a particular tree in the Florentine hillside that he would make of point of seeing on his daily walk. To Berenson, that one tree was the finest artwork he had ever seen. He never tired of seeing that tree.

Berenson was a reprobate. Yet he had a far greater appreciation for God’s artistry than many true believers.

iii) In addition, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being “manipulated” as long as you keep your sense of perspective. When I watch a movie, I know the director and actors are trying to manipulate my feelings. I consent to that manipulation. At the same time, I can withdraw my consent. I know it’s fictitious.

Likewise, listening to great religious music or seeing great religious art can be a moving experience. At the same time, we need to retain a sense of detachment. This is not the same thing as being in the presence of God. God didn’t make me feel this way. It’s the effect of the human artist or architect or composer or musician or soloist. It has this power because it’s harnessing divinely created media. But this is technology, not sanctity.
The Bible gives us good evidence that we should indeed be intentional about touching our joy in God with physical means. We have already seen in Chapter Five that seeing the glory of God is the essential and proper basis of our joy in God. We argued from 2 Corinthians 4:4 that the most central and controlling means of seeing God is by means of hearing the gospel.
So he uses “seeing” as a metaphor for intellectual perception. But that’s not the same thing as “physical means.”
I stress this because it is very easy for us to say we are thankful for the pleasures of sex and food, but never even take God into the picture. When that happens, the joy of sex and food is not joy in God, and is not spiritual, and is not an honor to God for his goodness. Enjoying God’s gifts without a consciousness of God is no tribute to God himself.
i) One of the problems I have with this way of putting things is that he treats the Godward significance of natural goods as if that were extrinsic to the natural good. So we have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a sign pointing beyond itself.

On this view, our religious response is tacked onto the object. Something extra. Something additional to, and extraneous to, the object in itself.

Once again, I think this fails to appreciate the intrinsically Godward significance of God’s own handiwork.

It reminds me a little too much of Byzantine monks who spend all their time reciting the “Jesus Prayer.”

Fact is—much of our inner, spiritual life has a subliminal dimension. It doesn’t need to be self-consciously pious all the time to be genuinely pious. Indeed, it’s a superficial piety that requires constant prompting to remember our lines. If we find God so forgettable, then our roots don’t go very deep. True piety should be more spontaneous. Something that wells up from below.

ii) In addition, Piper doesn’t seem to think that a natural good can be a good in its own right. For him, its goodness is purely instrumental. It’s only good to the extent that it’s a means to an end.

I don’t see the need to take such a reductionistic view of God’s handiwork. It’s possible for finite goods to be good in their own right—as long as we are mindful of their finite value. Finite goods can be both intrinsic and instrumental goods. They are intrinsic goods, but finitely good, as well as instrumental to a greater good.

Yes, God in himself is the summum bonum. But a divine effect of a good God is a good effect. A genuine good. If God is good, then whatever God does is also good.

One could argue that Piper is the greatest Reformed pastor of his generation. The greatest Reformed pastor since Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was—in turn—the greatest Reformed pastor since Spurgeon.

Piper is very influential, and deservedly so. But I have reservations about this aspect of his theology.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Some Pastoral Reflections"

The following excerpt offers some good, practical advice about how to help fellow Christians who are suffering (which I'd do well to constantly remember). It's from the single best book on the topic, IMHO, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (2nd ed.) by D.A. Carson.
Anyone who has suffered devastating grief or dehumanizing pain has at some point been confronted by near relatives of Job's miserable comforters. They come with their clichés and tired, pious mouthings. They engender guilt where they should be administering balm. They utter solemn truths where compassion is needed. They exhibit strength and exhort to courage where they would be more comforting if they simply wept. . . .

Here I have the Christian in view.

1. We must recognize that grief normally passes through predictable stages. For example, when someone is suddenly bereaved, it is not uncommon to find such stages of grief as the following, drawn from a useful little book by Granger Westberg: "we are in a state of shock"; "we express emotion"; "we feel depressed and very lonely"; "we may experience physical symptoms of distress"; "we may become panicky"; "we feel a sense of guilt about the loss"; "we are filled with anger and resentment"; "we resist returning to our usual activities"; "gradually hope comes through"; "we struggle to affirm reality."

Clearly there is no immutable law about these stages. How many stages an individual goes through, and how quickly, depends on many things: how stable that person is, how devoted to or dependent on the one who has died, how much support is given, how robust that person's faith is, how habitual that person's walk with God, and much more beside. The value of recognizing that stages of grief are common, however, is that the person who is trying to offer comfort will see the telltale signs and respond appropriately. The bereaved Christian who suddenly starts lashing out with anger and resentment will not be written off as an apostate. The Christian who at this moment finds little comfort in the doctrine of the resurrection, so great is the sense of loss, is not to be berated and rebuked. . . .

2. Some grief takes a long time to heal. . . . A young pastor I know lost his wife, the mother of their two children, and about a year later left the ministry. The church had proved marvelously supportive for the first two or three months. By six months, older saints, including the senior pastor, were simply telling him to get on with life, to pick up the pieces, to stop feeling sorry for himself.

It is possible that some of these things needed to be said -- but only in a context of giving this young man the repeated opportunity to talk out his grief, to pray with people, to find some continuing help with the children. Pastoral ministry being what it is, perhaps he should have been gently directed toward temporary resignation even earlier -- but only as a way of helping him to regain his moorings, not in a way that compounded his grief with a sense of failure and guilt. . . . My point is that many forms of grief need time.

3. Frequently in the midst of suffering the most comforting "answers" are simple presence, help, silence, tears. Helping with the gardening or preparing a casserole may be far more spiritual an exercise than the exposition of Romans 8:28. The Scriptures themselves exhort us to "mourn with those who mourn" (Rom. 12:15).

4. Many verbal expressions of encouragement should not be based on the assumption that they must answer an implicit "Why?" Not everyone asks that question. Some who need encouragement need reminding of simple things, not profound and complex answers to the "why" question. A young man became a Christian and almost immediately was diagnosed as having a rapid and incurable cancer. As he watched part of his body wither away and other parts of his body bloat grotesquely, those around him found that the greatest encouragement came to him from reciting John 11:25-26 and parts of 1 Corinthians 15.

5. When verbalized answers to anguished cries of "Why?" are required, what and how much we provide will depend largely on what might be called our spiritual diagnosis, that is, our assessment of the needs and capacity of the individual. Some crying "Why?" are not really asking questions; they are simply seeking comfort. Others are asking questions, but cannot at that moment bear more than the briefest reply. When a Christian I do not know very well asks that sort of question, my response to that question may be, "I cannot give you all the answers to your 'Why?' But you may draw courage from the fact that the one who loves you so much he died for you asked the same question: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"

At some point, more reflective believers will want something more. Some will be ready to read, others to engage in simple Bible studies -- for instance, reflections on some of the psalms, or on the prayers of Paul, or on other passages briefly expounded in this book.

6. In this day when many in the Western world have been seduced by some form of the "power, health, and wealth" gospel, it is important to stress the Christian's location -- between the fall and the new heaven and the new earth, enjoying the "down payment" of the Spirit but by no means free of death and decay. There is nothing in Scripture to encourage us to think we should always be free from the vicissitudes that plague a dying world. Of course, it may be easier to say those things to believers before their time of suffering rather than in it. But where self-seeking, self-gratifying forms of Western Christianity predominate, it is essential to lay out these truths, loudly and often.

7. For one reason or another, suffering is often associated with guilt feelings. The sharpest diagnosis and care are called for. Sometimes there may be real guilt, that is, moral guilt before God for specific sins. Here, if anywhere, the Christian is able to offer good news. Jesus died to take our guilt. Real guilt in the face of suffering must be handled like real guilt in every situation: we must confess it, renounce the sin, ask God for his forgiveness, attempt restitution where possible, and learn to rest in the forgiving word of Christ.

But often there is false guilt, that is, a vague feeling of guilt for which there is no real breach before God. For the Christian, the long-term answer is to establish, on the basis of God's Word, what we should and should not feel guilty about, and thus expose false guilt as nothing less than the devil's lie.

8. Some forms of suffering require active intervention. A wife being beaten by her husband, for instance, requires a judgment: at what point must you counsel the wife to leave him, even to get a court order to provide her with some sort of protection? The case of a child being sexually abused by a relative demands that we bring in police or other services: the need for haste is often balanced by the need for discretion or reasonable certainty. . . . In countless instances, Christians provide -- they must provide -- more than a counseling service or a shoulder to cry on.

9. It is important to offer hope -- not only the hope of the consummation, but hope even on the shorter term.

10. Nevertheless, it is important to help people to live one day at a time. When a horrible and terminal disease is hanging over your head, you do not need grace for the end -- yet. You need grace for today -- just for today. We all are under sentence of death; all of us need grace for today.

11. Above all, we must help people to know God better. Too many answers we give are merely intellectual, merely theoretical, merely propositional. We must so teach and counsel and pray with people that we deepen their experiential knowledge of God. We must so get them into meditative and rigorous reading of the Word of God that they draw vast comfort from its pages. At the deepest level, men and women must learn, with Job, that God is very great, and it is an inexpressible privilege to know him, to be satisfied with him, even when -- especially when! -- we do not have all the answers. Then men and women will learn to rest in his love, and will return again and again to the cross, where their vision of that love will be constantly renewed.

When C.S. Lewis finished writing his book The Problem of Pain (originally published in 1940 at the outbreak of World War II), he wrote a preface explaining that his aim was to address certain intellectual problems relating to the problem of pain. Then he added this sentence:
For the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.
12. To this end, we must pray for those who suffer. God himself is the one "who comforts the downcast" (2 Cor. 7:6); he is "the God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3). In the deepest suffering, many find it almost impossible to pray. Should not the rest of us intercede for them?

There have been times when I have seen the face of suffering transformed, permanently transformed, in answer to specific, believing prayer. There is surely something unhealthy and deformed about a vision of Christianity that offers counsel but not intercession -- a trap into which I have tumbled on far too many occasions. If God is the God of comfort, he, finally, must provide it -- often through human agents, sometimes not, but he must do it. So let us ask, remembering that he delights to give good things to his children, and that very often our lack is a reflection of a pathetic refusal to ask (James 4:2).
Likewise, Carson's sermons on the same are well worth listening to.

The libertarian intuition

1. Arminians appeal to intuition to justify their libertarian theory of the will. At the moment I’m not discussing sophisticated libertarian philosophers like Robert Kane. Instead, I’m discussing the poplar versions of that intuition which are commonly deployed against Calvinism. Indeed, a more nuanced formulation, such as you can find in Kane, is problematic for Arminian objections to Calvinism because Kane makes certain concessions which weaken the straightforward appeal to a libertarian intuition.

2. So what is the libertarian intuition? Popular versions take the form of “ought implies can” or “I’m not responsible for my actions unless I could have done otherwise.”

And, at first glance, the popular formulations enjoy a certain intuitive appeal. But that’s because they’re ambiguous. There are hidden qualifications or unspoken examples which we tend to read into these formulations that are not a part of the formulation itself.

Take the following bare-bones formulation:

i-a: I’m not responsible unless I could have done otherwise.

Do you find that plausible? If so, I suspect you find it plausible because you’re mentally adding a qualification that isn’t present in the actual formulation.

For example, suppose, if I were given the chance to do it all over again, with the freedom to do otherwise, I did exactly the same thing the second time around?

If every time I did it, I repeated the same choice, even though I had the freedom to do otherwise, then is it morally relevant whether or not I had the freedom to do otherwise?

Why do I need an option I never exercise? If I’m going to do the same thing in the same situation, even if I have the opportunity to do something different, then why do I need all of these unrealized alternatives at my disposal?

3. At that point I think the libertarian intuition loses its intuitive appeal. What makes it appealing is a more qualified formulation. Something like the following:

i-b: I’m not responsible unless I would have done otherwise.

If given the chance to do it all over again, I would have done otherwise, then it’s unfair to blame me when I didn’t have the freedom to do otherwise.

Does that sound more plausible? I think so.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is a reliable intuition, then to use it against Calvinism, the Arminian must show that the reprobate would have done otherwise had they been able to do so.

I have no idea how an Arminian would demonstrate that contention.

4. But there’s another wrinkle in the libertarian intuition. Although (i-b) may sound plausible as a general maxim, what happens when we plug specific examples into that formulation?

Here’s one: If the robber had known the teller would trip the silent alarm, the robber would not have tried to rob that bank.

Now, that’s a plausible scenario, is it not? Plausible in the sense of being realistic.

But is it exculpatory? Does it absolve the robber of blame?

Suppose the robber were to use the libertarian intuition to excuse his actions:

“If I had to do it all over again, knowing then what I know how, I would not have tried to rob that bank. But I was in no position to know the teller would trip the silent alarm. Therefore, you should drop the charges.”

Now, given the libertarian framework, there’s a certain logic to his plea. He was acting on insufficient information. Indeed, it poses a dilemma. The only way to find out was by doing it. He couldn’t know this in advance. He could only know the outcome after the fact—at which point it was too late to think better of his mistake.

However, I don’t think it’s intuitively plausible to say this excuses his action. Quite the contrary.

He’s admitting, in a roundabout way, that he would commit the crime if he thought he could get away with it. If he had to do it all over again, he would do otherwise because he got caught the first time around. So, forearmed with a knowledge of the unfortunate outcome, he would avoid that unfortunate outcome the second time around.

Yet this admission is just as self-incriminating in its own way. Yes, he would have done otherwise if he could have done otherwise (i.e. if he could have known otherwise). So why isn’t this morally sufficient to excuse his conduct?

Although, with the benefit of hindsight, he would avoid repeating the same wrong, the reason he would refrain from committing wrong is not a moral reason. Indeed, his reason is an immoral reason.

He does wrong as long as it’s in his self-interest to do wrong, and he avoids wrongdoing as long as it’s contrary to his self-interest to do wrong. So both his actions and inactions are guided by evil motives. Therefore, even if we apply the libertarian intuition to this case, it fails to absolve him of culpability.

5. Why did he rob the bank? Well, for one thing, he thought he had a right to someone else’s money.

What would enable him to do otherwise? By removing that necessary condition.

Yet that comes at a cost: a cost to personal identity. If you remove that condition, you’re no longer dealing with the same person.

But if libertarian freedom can’t preserve the personal identity of the free agent, then in what sense is the agent free? Who is the bearer of this libertarian property? The agent? But who is the agent? If his freedom can only come at the expense of his personal identity, then the same agent can never exercise that freedom.

If a robber didn’t think he was entitled to someone else’s money, he wouldn’t be a robber. But he wouldn’t be a robber because he’d be a different person—a person with a different moral outlook on life.

So libertarian freedom is freedom without a subject. To enable the subject to do otherwise, we must change his psychological makeup.

Typically, libertarians define libertarian freedom as the freedom to do something different under the same circumstances. But what this formulation leaves out of account is the self-identity of the agent.

The question is not merely if an agent can do something different under the same circumstances, but if the same agent can do something different under the same circumstances.

Libertarianism takes the self-identity of the agent for granted, but that’s a key issue. If I don’t rob a bank because I don’t think I have a right to someone else’s money, then I’m not the same person. I may be similar in many respects, but I’m not the very same individual.

To derail libertarian freedom, it isn’t essential that this factor (my moral outlook) be a sufficient condition to motivate my action. It’s adequate for this factor to be a merely necessary condition, since its presence or absence affects the personal identity of the agent. Without personal identity, it’s equivocal to predicate libertarian freedom.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dan's grand switcheroo

Dan has responded to my reply:

I. Clearing the Deck

Let’s begin with a direct response to Dan:

“I am not opposing all philosophy; only the practice of reading technical philosophical definitions into scripture.”

Of course, a Calvinist isn’t reading technical definitions into Biblical usage.

“To show that I have no hard feelings towards setting up special definitions in philosophical discussions, I will call the practice of exchanging ‘You can choose X’ for ‘You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire’ ‘the switcheroo’ (since Steve doesn’t like the term ‘equivocation’).”

i) I have no problem with the term “equivocation.” Indeed, Dan is often guilty of that fallacy.

ii) Once again, Dan is unable to draw an elementary distinction between words and concepts.

iii) Take his illustration. “You can choose X” is a sentence, not a word. So, even at the semantic level, this is not a question of what the word “choice” means, but the meaning of the whole sentence. The sentence (“You can choose X”) expresses a concept.

iv) What he’s pleased to call “the switcheroo” expresses yet another level of confusion on his part.

a) A Calvinist doesn’t define the meaning of the word “choice” in terms “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire.”

b) For that matter, a Calvinist doesn’t even have to define the concept of choice in terms of “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire.”

The basic idea of choosing is simply to make a decision.

v) Where choosing “according to your strongest desires” comes into play is if you pose an additional question about the psychology of choosing. What lies behind the choice? What, if anything, causes us to choose. Do motives figure in the choice? Are motives necessary or sufficient conditions?

That’s not a question of how we define the word, or even how we define the basic concept. Rather, that’s a question of explicating the concept in light of further questions about the antecedent conditions of choice. It’s in answer to a request for an explanation of choice.

There’s no “equivocation” here. The answer varies according to the nature of the question.

vi) What is more, both sides do this. An Arminian has a theory of the will to back up his theory of libertarian freedom. If you ask the Arminian to explain the psychological dynamics of choice, he will go beyond the bare statement that “You can choose X” to unpack his full-blown action theory.

vii) In addition to the psychology of choice, both sides also discuss the metaphysics of choice. How does the world correspond to our choices?

Depending on the question, both sides will resort to a more complex formulation. Therefore, if Calvinism is guilty of a “switcheroo,” then Arminianism is guilty of a “switcheroo.”

viii) In some odd corner of his mind, Dan seems to think that when I read the word like eklegomai in the Bible, I think to myself, “choose according to the strongest desire.”

Where does Dan come up with such a nutty idea of how a Calvinist like me construes Biblical usage? When I see the word eklegomai in Scripture, I don’t annex an explanatory concept to the word. A definition is not an explanation. The ontological or psychological preconditions which make a choice a choice are completely extraneous to the meaning of the word.

ix) Apropos (viii), I think one of Dan’s basic problems is that he must be ignorant of the standard literature on lexical semantics. Because he doesn’t know enough to know what I’m talking about, my correction bounces right off him. It doesn’t’ make a dent. Because the significance of what I said didn’t registers the first time around, he simply repeats the same semantic fallacies in the next post.

“Steve correctly points out that the dictionary doesn’t engage in metaphysical analysis, but it does provide what would be the conclusion of such analysis by reporting common usage.”

It does nothing of the kind. In the nature of the case, “common usage” ordinarily is preanalytic. Most language users aren’t metaphysicians. They don’t use a word like “choice” with a lot of conscious, metaphysical baggage. Most folks aren’t conversant with modal metaphysics or Frankfurt examples.

“The only weight I am asking the dictionary to carry is to provide the common sense meaning of the term “choose”. Steve granted that determinists make use of the switcheroo.”

An utterly false characterization of what I said.

“But the dictionary doesn’t state ‘if it’s my strongest desire’, nor does it give Paul’s technical counter-definition.”

i) Sorry, but this continues to reflect Dan’s linguistic ineptitude. Naturally the dictionary isn’t going to define the word “choice,” according to a particular theory of the will, since the psychology of choice is irrelevant to the meaning of the word.

That is equally true on Arminian or Calvinist grounds. Both sides explicate the concept of choice according to their theory of the will.

ii) Dan is also acting as though, if a dictionary is silent on the ontology or psychology of choosing, that it must be opposed to a particular psychological or metaphysical theory which underwrites the act of choosing.

“In fact, based on the dictionary’s definition (selecting between possible alternatives), we can rightly say that man never actually chooses; because the alternatives are never actually possible.”

i) Of course, this fails to draw an elementary distinction between the mental act of deliberation, and the extramental configuration of the world.

The fact that in deliberating over a course of action, I may mentally review some hypothetical alternatives doesn’t begin go prove the extramental existence of alternate possibilities—much less their availability, even if they did exist.

Rather, all this bears witness to is a psychological process. Our imagination.

ii) And, at the risk of stating the obvious, I can imagine many “possibilities” which are impossible for me to realize.

iii) For that matter, we often make choices on the basis of what we thought were possible outcomes which, in hindsight, turn out to be beyond our reach.

I may decide to become a med student. At the time I think I can afford med school. But due to an economic crisis after I enroll, I’m forced to drop out of med school before I graduate.

I though that alternative was a live possibility. I was wrong.

“I reject the switcheroo as common sense, since it seems to be motivated by deterministic assumptions and it rules out some intuitive underpinnings of LFW. It may well be true that we don’t have imperial proof of libertarian freewill, but that doesn’t mean LFW isn’t intuitive. Normally we think we can choose the options we contemplate. Perhaps we are deceived and it’s an illusion, but believing so seems counter-intuitive.”

i) Like Arminians generally, Dan has a wonderful capacity to ignore the obvious. Surely the “common man” has extensive experience in overestimating his abilities. How many middle-aged men come to the uncomfortable realization that they will have to lower their expectations. That they will be unable to achieve all the goals they set for themselves when they graduated from high school?

And yet, at the time they were setting these goals, they honestly thought these were realistic objectives. That’s one of the humbling aspects of real life. The rude recognition that you’ll be unable to make good on all your ambitious plans.

If intuition is Dan’s criterion, then LFW is false since LFW is counterintuitive. Just ask the guy who’s having his midlife crisis.

ii) But while we’re on the subject of intuition, it’s counterintuitive to claim the future is indeterminate if the future is foreknown. The Calvinist, Thomist, and open theist all appreciate the force of that intuition. They relieve the tension by dropping one or another of the two propositions generating the tension.

If intuition were Dan’s criterion, then he’d either be a determinist (e.g. Calvinist, Thomist) or an open theist. So Dan is very selective in his appeal to intuition.

iii) Apropos (ii), Dan is also very selective in his appeal to common sense. When he and I had our previous debate over God’s knowledge of the future, he tried to distinguish between knowing the future in itself and knowing true future propositions.

But the common man wouldn’t draw that distinction. For the common man, knowing the future is synonymous with knowing what will happen.

iv) Let’s spend a little more time on this statement: “It may well be true that we don’t have imperial proof of libertarian freewill, but that doesn’t mean LFW isn’t intuitive.”

His denial must be the understatement of the millennium. The way he puts it, you’d think the only deficiency in the case for LFW lies in the fact (if it is a fact) that the evidence falls just shy of apodictic proof. No Dan, that’s not the problem.

a) To begin with, it’s not a lack of compelling or overwhelming evidence, or even a lack of preponderant evidence. Rather, it’s a total lack of any evidence whatsoever for LFW. Name me just one human being who just once in his life did otherwise. Name me just one human being who just once in his life successfully accessed an alternate possibility.

To my knowledge, there’s not a single instance of a single human being at any time in his life doing otherwise. Not for all the human beings who ever lived. Billions and billions of “free” agents (in the libertarian sense). Yet you can’t cough up even one example.

b) But, hey, let’s waive the past. Dan, why don’t you perform a simple experiment for us? If you say you can do otherwise, then do it! What could be more direct? What could be more convincing?

To use your example, why don’t you go to your local Baskin-Robbins. Take some eyewitnesses along with you. They can bring camcorders.

Then demonstrate your freedom to do otherwise. First you can choose the strawberry ice cream cone. Then let us see the same moment repeat itself, but this time we will see a chocolate ice cream cone in your hand where the strawberry cone had been.

That would at least furnish some prima facie evidence for your contention. If you can pull that off, we might ask you to repeat this feat under laboratory conditions.

Who needs to argue for LWF when you can show me how it’s done?

c) So, Dan, are you able to do that? You appeal to intuition. Well, it would be very counterintuitive to have an ability you’re unable to exercise. To say you can do something you can’t do.

Suppose a guru tells me that he can levitate. What’s the best way of proving to me that he can levitate? By levitating.

But for some strange reason, he does everything except levitate to prove to me that he can levitate. He assures me that he can levitate. He appeals to intuition. He appeals to common sense. He even comes of with an a priori argument for his power to levitate.

Now, maybe I’m too cynical in my old age, but I’d begin to suspect that the guru is bluffing. Stalling for time.

d) I hope you’re not going to tell me that it’s impossible to repeat the same moment in time, for if you really have LWF, then the structure of time ought to accommodate your counterfactual freedom. Isn’t that a presupposition of LWF? That the external world corresponds to your intuitions?

So, Dan, if you really do have the power to access alternate possibilities, then that ought to include access to alternate timelines. That’s what these alternate possibilities amount to, is it not? The power to actualize different possible-world segments?

Please don’t tell me that the actual world constrains your freedom to do otherwise. For the actual world is limited to the past and present. According to you, there is no actual future. The future lies in the realm of the possible. Many different possibilities. And it’s your freedom of choice that actualizes a possibility.

So, Dan, access the strawberry scenario, then access the alternate (chocolate) scenario. Repeat the same timeframe, but alternate the outcome. Alternate between one possible outcome and another.

After all, that’s what LWF is all about, right? The ability to do otherwise under identical circumstances.

“Further, it’s intuitive to think that ought implies can (i.e. we shouldn’t be held morally responsible for things predetermined before we were born).”

Dan is equivocating. There is more to his position than “ought implies can.”

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this slogan is true. According to the formula, I’m not responsible unless I can do it. And let’s grant that contention, for the sake of argument.

But there’s more to libertarian freedom then that. What’s the real principle?


i) I’m not responsible unless I can do it,


ii) I’m not responsible unless I can either do it or refrain from doing it.

Dan himself defined choice in terms of “selecting between possible alternatives.”

So that wouldn’t be “ought implies can.” Rather, that would be “ought implies either can or can’t.”

Hence, Dan is pulling a “switcheroo.”

“Since these are common sense notions, and the switcheroo rules them out, the switcheroo contradicts common sense. I didn’t provide the common sense arguments to prove LFW, only that to demonstrate that the common sense notion of choice rules out determinism.”

They’re not common sense notions. Dan is trading on the ambiguity of “ought implies can.”

But the plausibility of that slogan depends on the specific illustration. Take two examples:

i) I’m not obligated to love my wife unless I can love my wife.

ii) I’m not obligated to love my wife unless I can hate my wife.

Now, even if you think that (i) is plausible, (ii) is not. Yet libertarian freedom doesn’t stop with (i). To be free in the libertarian sense, we must be free to do otherwise.

iii) Moreover, the plausibility of (i) turns on the details. Suppose we elaborate (i) as follows:

I’m not obligated to love my wife because I can’t love my wife. The reason I can’t love my wife is because I’ve fallen in love with a prostitute. As long as I’m smitten by this prostitute, I can’t feel the way I used to about my wife. And I can’t control my feelings. I just feel what I feel. Since I can’t feel the same way about my wife, I’m not obligated to love my wife.

“Nor is the question if there is a relationship between desire and choice. I don’t reject the phrase ‘choosing according to our strongest desire’, though I don’t use it because it’s gained a deterministic meaning.”

Dan isn’t paying attention to his own argument. Whether or not choice is constrained by our strongest desire is irrelevant. The truth or falsity of the claim is not at issue. Rather, the question at issue, as he himself chose to frame the issue, is whether or not that principle is commonsensical.

“As we contemplate our options our strongest desire seems to shift. If we think about strawberry ice cream, it may become our strongest desire at that time, but the same happens when our thoughts shift to chocolate. Choice resolves indecision. So as oppose to a determinative causal relationship between desire and choice, I see a definitional one, the choice defines the strongest desire just before the choice as ‘just before the choice’.”

Dan is confusing deliberation with decision. Deliberation is prior to decision. As I contemplate the different flavors of ice cream, I may change my mind. If so, why did I change my mind? Because, as I contemplate the different flavors of ice cream, I find the thought of chocolate more appetizing than the thought of strawberry. I didn’t choose to find one flavor more appetizing than other. Rather, as I contemplate the options, I remember that I like the flavor of chocolate better than I like the flavor of strawberry.

Deliberation is voluntary, but what I find appetizing is involuntary.

“Nor is the question if scripture uses anthropomorphisms or accommodated language. Steve brought up the fact that Mormons and Open Theists would find my approach to scripture too philosophical, since they take some statements literally, that I take as either anthropomorphic or ‘accommodated language’ (i.e. ‘the hand of God’ or divine repentance). But this is not an example of using philosophy to define scriptural terms; it’s an example of using philosophy to interpret scripture. The scripture is using ordinary language to describe something extraordinary: God. Literal interpretations are closed off by other truths found in other passages.___Rather the question is ‘is it OK to read technical philosophical definitions into the words of scripture, or should we stick to the common sense meaning of terms?’ To even ask the question is to answer it.”

i) This isn’t a question of Biblical usage. Consider Dan’s actual procedure. Did he consult Greek and Hebrew lexicons? No. He consulted English-language dictionaries.

So his appeal to Biblical usage is a complete charade. His argument isn’t based on Biblical usage at all. Do Greek and Hebrews lexicons define scriptural words for “choice” in terms of alternate possibilities? No.

To the contrary, Dan is guilty of the very thing he falsely accuses the Calvinist of doing. Dan is importing extraneous concepts into Biblical usage. He didn’t get this from a Greek or Hebrew lexicon.

ii) Moreover, Calvinism doesn’t reject the existence of alternate possibilities. The real question is whether we index alternate possibilities to the will of God or the will of man.

“When I approach scripture, I typically think in terms of at least two levels: ‘what it says’ and ‘interpretation’. Once I figure out what a text says, it still may be open to multiple interpretations; depending on the tightness of the wording and the specificity. Interpretation is selecting one of those meanings based on the context and truths discovered in other passages. Interpretation may make use of philosophy; especially to make distinctions and reconcile apparent discrepancies. For example, I typically use Occham’s razor to reconcile apparent discrepancies.”

i) Of course, Reformed theological method also interprets a particular passage in light of truths from other passages.

ii) If interpretation is determined, “not by what it says,” but by other Biblical truths as well as philosophical considerations, then, in principle, we could even grant, for the same of argument, that Biblical usage means exactly what the Arminian takes it to mean, but still interpret the passage Calvinistically in light of other Biblical truths as well as philosophical considerations.

“But while I may use philosophy at the interpretation level, I don’t use it at the “what it says” level; more to the point, I don’t use philosophy to define biblical terms.”

He uses English dictionaries to define Biblical terms. And even in that respect, he overinterprets dictionary usage.

“Doing so seems to leave the scripture open to almost an unlimited amount of interpretations (as opposed to just a few). This seems to deliver a deathblow to the clarity of scripture.”

Given the way in which Dan divorces the “what it says” level from the interpretive level, he leaves the interpretation of Scripture wide open.

“Further, it seems like a departure from the grammatical/historical analysis of scripture and philosophy informs scripture rather than the other way around.”

i) Dan isn’t using the grammatico-historical method. That would involve Biblical word-studies. An analysis of biblical usage based on comparative Greek and Hebrew usage in Scripture, as well as secular Greek and Hebrew or cognate languages (e.g. Ugaritic).

ii) Furthermore, “common sense” is irrelevant to the grammatico-historical method. Grammatico-historical exegesis isn’t based on what would strike a modern reader as commonsensical, but what would strike an ancient reader as commonsensical.

(And even then, Scripture sometimes challenges the “common sense” assumptions of the ancient reader, e.g. Rom 9:19.)

Same thing with popular usage. Yes, the Bible generally conforms to popular usage (although Scripture has some technical terms, and some Bible writers are more highbrow than others). But popular for whom? For the modern reader? No. For the ancient reader. “Popular” in terms of what was popular usage at that time and place.

“So to restate my argument, the common notion of choose is specific enough to rule out deterministic interpretations and the bible uses the common notion of choose.”

False, for numerous reasons (see above).

II. Interpretation

Let’s now apply Dan’s (allegedly) “intuitive,” “commonsensical,” “what it says” standard to a number of Bible verses:

Genesis 6:6

6And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

By Dan’s yardstick, God had second thoughts about what he made. If, with the benefit of hindsight, he could do it all over again, God would not have made mankind in the first place.

Genesis 22:12

12He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."

By Dan’s yardstick, God was in the dark about Abraham’s future actions. God is on a learning curve. He learns through observation.

Exodus 32:10,14

10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you."…14And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

By Dan’s yardstick, God changed his mind. Moses talked him out of his original plan.

Numbers 14:12,20

12I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they."… 20Then the LORD said, "I have pardoned, according to your word.

By Dan’s yardstick, God once again changed his mind. Once again, Moses talked him out of his original plan.

Deuteronomy 8:2

2And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

By Dan’s yardstick, this is another instance in which God is ignorant of the future.

1 Samuel 15:10-35

10The word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments."… 35 …And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

By Dan’s yardstick, God had second thoughts about elevating Saul to the throne. If, with the benefit of hindsight, he could do it all over again, God would not have made him king.

2 Kings 20:1-7

1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.'" 2Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3"Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5"Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake." 7And Isaiah said, "Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.

By Dan’s yardstick, this is another instance in which God changed his mind because someone talked him out of his original plan.

1 Chronicles 21:15

15And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity.

By Dan’s yardstick, God changed his mind at the last minute.

2 Chronicles 32:31

31And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.

By Dan’s yardstick, this is another case of divine ignorance. God doesn’t know what people will do until they do it.

Jeremiah 3:6-7

6The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: "Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? 7And I thought, 'After she has done all this she will return to me,' but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.

By Dan’s yardstick, God was not merely ignorant of the outcome, but mistaken. God entertained a false expectation about the future. The outcome came as a surprise. Caught him offguard.

Jeremiah 7:31

31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

By Dan’s yardstick, not only did God utterly fail to anticipate the actual outcome, but he even failed to anticipate the possible outcome. God is not only ignorant of the future, but he’s ignorant of future possibilities.

Jonah 3:10

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

By Dan’s yardstick, God had a change of heart.

Now, how does Dan actually interpret these passages? According to him:

“When I approach scripture, I typically think in terms of at least two levels: ‘what it says’ and ‘interpretation’. Once I figure out what a text says, it still may be open to multiple interpretations; depending on the tightness of the wording and the specificity. Interpretation is selecting one of those meanings based on the context and truths discovered in other passages. Interpretation may make use of philosophy; especially to make distinctions and reconcile apparent discrepancies. For example, I typically use Occham’s razor to reconcile apparent discrepancies.”

Two points:

i) In order to avoid a Mormon or neotheist interpretation, he must show in each case how the wording is sufficiently loose or general to avoid that interpretation.

Okay. What is there in the actual wording of these passages that leaves them open to multiple interpretations? If I consulted a Hebrew lexicon, would the semantic domain of a key word be sufficiently wide to free up room for multiple interpretations?

I’d like to see Dan walk us through the actual process, verse by verse.

ii) And even if he were successful on a purely semantic plane, he seems to think the “what it means” level of the text can still be trumped by other passages, or even by philosophical considerations.

But in that event, what does it matter how the text is worded? What does it matter which “intuitive,” “common sense” notions are asserted by the text?

III. Arminian Philosophical Theology

Let’s take some concrete examples of Arminian theological method in the person of Arminius himself.

“The will of God is both correctly and usefully distinguished into that which is antecedent, and that which is consequent.”

“Divine providence does not determine a free will to one part of a contradiction or contrariety, that is, by a determination preceding the actual volition itself; under other circumstances the concurrence of the very volition with the will is the concomitant cause, and thus determines the will with the volition itself, by an act which is not previous but simultaneous, as the schoolmen express themselves.”

“Hence, God is said to ‘know those who are his;’ and the number both of those who are to be saved, and of those who are to be damned, is certain and fixed, and the quod and the qui, [the substance and the parties of whom it is composed,] or, as the phrase of the schools is, both materially and formally.”

“The mode by which God understands, is not that which is successive, and which is either through composition and division, or through deductive argumentation; but it is simple, and through infinite intuition.”

“He understands all things through his essence.”

“But the single and most simple knowledge of God may be distinguished by some modes, according to various objects and the relations to those objects, into theoretical and practical knowledge, into that of vision and of simple intelligence.”

“And therefore when sleep, drowsiness and oblivion are attributed to God, by these expressions is meant only a deferring of the punishment to be inflicted on his enemies, and a delay in affording solace and aid to his friends.”

“One will of God is absolute, another respective. His absolute will is that by which he wills anything simply, without regard to the volition or act of the creature, such as is that about the salvation of believers. His respective will is that by which he wills something with respect to the volition or the act of the creature. It is also either antecedent or consequent.”

“God wills some things per se or per accidens.”

“Those attributes of God ought to be considered, which are either properly or figuratively attributed to him in the Scriptures, according to a certain analogy of the affections and virtues in rational creatures.”

“Those divine attributes which have the analogy of affections, may be referred to two principal kinds, so that the first class may contain those affections which are simply conversant about good or evil, and which may be denominated primitive affections; and the second may comprehend those which are exercised about good and evil in reference to their absence or presence, and which may be called affections derived from the primitive.”

“Of the second class of these derivative affections, (See Thesis 11) some belong to God per se, as they simply contain in themselves perfection; others, which seem to have something of imperfection, are attributed to him after the manner of the feelings of men, on account of some effects which he produces analogous to the effects of the creatures, yet without any passion, as he is simple and immutable and without any disorder and repugnance to right reason. But we subject the use and exercise of the first class of those affections (See Thesis 10) to the infinite wisdom of God, whose property it is to prefix to each of them its object, means, end and circumstances, and to decree to which, in preference to the rest, is to be conceded the province of acting.”

i) Compare all these scholastic terms and categories and distinctions with some of the populist rhetoric that Dan deployed against Manata:

“In response, first off quoting philosophers is helpful, but the dictionary is better at establishing the laymen, common sensical understanding of terms.”

“I also pointed out that the bible was written in common language, so using the exotic counter-definition was unbiblical.”

ii) Consider, moreover, the degree to which all these scholastic terms and categories and distinctions function as a hermeneutical grid. Not something Arminius simply derives from Scripture (which wouldn’t be easy), but something which Arminius would apply to Scripture, as an interpretive lens.