Monday, June 28, 2010

The Arminian chess master

One thing you can say about Thibodaux, he has the virtue of persistence. He never lets his track record of failure get in the way of yet another failed attempt.

“The problem with Helm’s logic is that there isn’t anything in the scriptures or logical analysis of the facts indicating that God is somehow responsible for preventing people from committing evil of their own accord.”

i) That statement reflects a tenacious confusion between two distinct concepts: responsibility and culpability. Even if God isn’t culpable, it hardly follows that God is in no way responsible.

ii) And, of course, a Calvinist could just as well say that there isn’t anything in the scriptures or logical analysis of the facts indicating that God is somehow to blame if he decrees our transgressions.

iii) Moreover, the question at issue is not what Scripture says, but the intuitive objection which Arminians level against predestination.

“So preventing evil from occurring isn’t an absolute moral imperative.”

i) I never said it was. Since, however, Arminians are the ones who hype the distinction between permission and predestination, Calvinists are answering the Arminians on their own terms when we cite obvious counterexamples.

ii) Since, therefore, there are cases in which allowing evil is culpable, Arminians need to state what additional condition(s) must be met for permission to be exculpatory–and they must also show how that condition is met in the case of Arminian theism.

iii) And, of course, Arminianism is committed to something far stronger than bare permission. The Arminian God doesn’t merely permit the wicked to commit evil. He empowers the wicked to commit evil. God is the necessary enabler.

“Exhaustive determinists will sometimes intuitively appeal to the fact that people have some extent of moral obligation to prevent wickedness when possible. While this is often true, it has to do with one’s level of obligation to stop the act from occurring, so would naturally not apply where no such obligations exist.”

And we could say the same thing about predestination.

“To get around this, some Calvinists raise dramatic counter-examples about a man not actually committing, but allowing (for example) a mass-murder to take place while not preventing it when he has power to. Indeed this would generally be wrong for people, but this ultimately tells us nothing about God. We as people aren’t God, we don’t hold the absolute power of life and death, therefore it’s generally not our place to decide who dies even by way of passivity, and thus we’re under general obligation to save human life if we can, except in cases such as just execution by higher authorities. God, on the other hand, has absolute power over life and death from the littlest babe to the mightiest warrior to the loftiest king to the oldest sage. He’s not required to prevent death, harm, pain or destruction without authorization by some higher authority, because He is the final Authority. I do believe that God’s attribute of justice does compel Him to settle the accounting of sin, but there’s no evidence of any principle of obligation making Him morally responsible to prevent us from harming each other or ourselves.”

There are several problems with this counter:

i) In that event, the morally salient distinction is not about the nature of agency (e.g. compatibilism/libertarianism), but about the nature of the agent (e.g. God and man).

Put another way, the exculpatory factor is not the distinction between permission and predestination, but between God and man, where what is obligatory for man is not obligatory for God.

ii) Needless to say, a Calvinist could redeploy the same distinction to defend Calvinism. Even if it was wrong for a man to “exhaustively determine” an evil state of affairs, it isn’t wrong for God to do so inasmuch as God has certain prerogatives which man does not.

iii) Thibo can’t exempt God from our moral intuitions and then continue to attack Calvinism on moralistic grounds. Intuition either applies to both or neither.

iv) Thibo’s distinction is counterintuitive. Ordinarily, the greater one’s power or authority, the greater one’s responsibility for the outcome. Indeed, that’s a fundamental principle of Arminian theology: ability preconditions responsibility. The greater one’s ability, the greater one’s responsibility.

But Thibo reverses the ratio, so that one’s responsibility is now in inverse relation to one’s ability. The agent with the most ability has the least responsibility.

“On a personal level, this strikes me as among the most ridiculous of assertions. Trying to hold another (God, no less) responsible for one’s own self-induced stupidity is the pinnacle of absurdity. Your own wrongdoing really is your choice, God didn’t make you do it, didn’t tempt you to do it, and isn’t subject to some immutable law that says He has to stop you from doing it. The one responsible is you.”

How can Arminianism honestly say that God didn’t tempt you to do it? Suppose you commit adultery with a ravishing woman. In Arminianism, God gave you your sex drive. And God made a world in which you’d encounter that woman. So he put you in that tempting situation.

“This Calvinist attempt to highlight ‘moral problems’ in Arminian theodicy is nothing more than a smokescreen and lame excuse for their own unsalvageable theodicy.”

i) To begin with, I, among others, have frequently presented a direct defense of my Reformed theodicy. So it’s not as if I simply shift the issue to Arminians. Is Thibo speaking from ignorance?

ii) However, there’s nothing improper about an argument from analogy. It’s a test of your opponent’s sincerity. Does he really believe his own objection? If so, and if his own position is relevantly similar, then something has to give.

“It’s more or less a ‘your theology is kind of like mine’ defense that relies upon taking the concept of God allowing people to commit sin for a period prior to their judgment, and trying to morally equate it with God masterminding all their sin!”

But the Arminian God doesn’t merely allow sinners to sin. He makes them agents. He empowers their actions. He creates a world with foreseeable evils. He puts them in tempting situations. He puts them in circumstances where one man can wrong another.

Sounds like the Arminian God masterminded the outcome.

“Such a defense is little more than trying to apply an arbitrary standard to God to justify the ridiculous notion of Him being the author of everything He finds abominable.”

i) The “arbitrary standard” is nothing less than the Arminian standard. It is Arminians who act as if permission is ipso facto exculpatory. When Calvinists simply draw attention to obvious counterexamples, we are merely applying Arminians standards to Arminian claims. If that’s ridiculous, then Arminianism is ridiculous.

ii) "Authorship” is a red herring. Thibo is the one who chose to frame the issue in those terms.

But one doesn’t have to be the “author” (whatever that means) of a given event to be either responsible or culpable.

iii) In what sense does the Arminian God find evil “abominable?” Wasn’t the Arminian God free to preempt the “abominable” outcome by creating a different world? Or does Thibo think that sin is unavoidable?

“Despite their attempts to confuse the issue, it boils down to the options of God leaving men to their own wicked devices (a good method of discipline and/or justice) versus God Himself producing their wicked devices for them (to quote Dordt, ‘a blasphemous thought’), and there simply is no comparison. Logically, it can only be concluded then that there is no moral problem with God allowing libertarian agents to commit evil of their own accord.”

Of course, that’s not what it boils down to, even on Arminian grounds. It’s not as if the Arminian God merely “leaves” the wicked to their own wickedness, as if God has to play the hand he was dealt. As the Creator of the world, God is the dealer.

“A related assertion is that God in the Arminian view still is the de facto author of sin, because He created the world as it is [set the initial conditions] knowing that there would be evil in it due to peoples’ choices. Essentially stating that God knew the results of His creating the world, and is therefore still the author of evil in some sense. For starters, the sinful thoughts, intentions etc aren’t generated by God; their existence (and hence God’s knowledge of them as well) are from within and are entirely contingent upon His creations, hence God can’t rightly be called the author of what doesn’t proceed from within Himself.”

i) We don’t have to frame the issue in terms of “authorship.” That’s how Thibo chose to cast the question.

The issue is one of complicity, not “authorship” (whatever that means). Is the Arminian God complicit in evil, given his foresight, creative fiat, and providential concurrence?

“But God still knew the outcome of creating this world, wouldn’t that make Him the author in some sense? Not at all. Prior knowledge of some agent authoring a thing doesn’t constitute authorship by the one who knew it. Even if I know with absolute infallibility that the next Twilight novel will be sophomoric and shallow, this doesn’t imply that I’m somehow making Stephenie Meyer develop one-dimensional cliche characters and idiot plots.”

i) But, of course, that grossly understates the causal role of God in the outcome, even on Arminian assumptions.

ii) Moreover, authorship is a red herring. Complicity is the real issue.

iii) God is not the prescient reader of someone else’s novel. God is the “author” of the author. The author of the novelist.

“Consider the example of a chess master who can (by whatever means) perfectly anticipate an opponent’s move. He sets up a gambit knowing the counter-move his opponent will make as a result. Did the chess master ‘author’ his opponent’s move by virtue of knowing it and setting a condition by which it would occur? Hardly. The opponent’s own move is still his own move; neither the chess master’s knowledge nor his own moves are relevant to who actually authored his opponent’s moves. To declare that God in framing the world (analogous to His ‘initial move’ with respect to us) somehow makes Him the author of what He knew would be our resulting free choices would be falls into this same trap of illogicality and equivocation.”

That example is counterproductive. When a chess master makes a move, that, in turn, determines what countermoves are available to his opponent. His opponent only has the options which the chess master left at his disposal. Moreover, the chess master, as the superior player, has left his opponent with a set of losing moves. Whatever remaining moves are still available to his opponent will be losing moves. Indeed, the chess master made a point of leaving his opponent with nothing better than one losing move or another. So while his opponent still has a range of choices, all his choices are equally futile.

Ironically, in his effort to escape the clutches of Calvinism, Thibo has given us a model of Arminian theism which is interchangeable with classic fatalism. The chess master will manipulate the variables so that every move his opponent will make or may make will lead to the identical outcome. It makes no difference if the opponent’s move is “his own move,” for it makes no difference to the inevitable end-result. The chess master will invariably maneuver his opponent to make his opponent end up wherever he wants him to be, and not where his opponent wants to be.

“To reiterate the definition, the author of a thing is the one in whom a concept originates; one who is the sole determiner of a thing can be none other than its author. Salvation for instance, was God’s idea, hence God is the author of the faith of Christ and salvation through Him (Heb 5:9, 12:2), but not the author of sin.”

i) He provides no exegesis to sustain that claim.

ii) More to the point, this is incompetent. He is taking an English translation of a Greek term, then treating the English word as if that’s synonymous with the French or Latin word in 16-17 theological usage.

“Is God committing some moral wrong by allowing sin to occur? No, God is free to allow anything He wishes (take it up with Him if you disagree).”

Is God committing some moral wrong by decreeing sin to occur? No, God is free to decree anything He wishes (take it up with Him if you disagree).

See how easy that was? Who needs to do apologetics when you can just assert your position.

“Was their rebellion inherent/necessary to His design? No.”

What does that mean, exactly? That the world is chock-full of unnecessary evils?

How would that cash out in terms of pastoral theology?

“One being’s prior knowledge of another being authoring a thing doesn’t constitute the knower being the author.”

i) “Authorship” is just a diversionary tactic.

ii) And there’s more to Arminian theism than divine foresight.


  1. It seems, and is for some, the hardest part of this whole debate is the fact that God had decreed that we would transgress!

    It is so hard to believe that Our God, the Highest and Best Authority, would create creatures, Who He knows won't be able to live up to His Holiness but fail His Holy, Righteous and Good Law, of Righteousness, then pardon some of us for our failures and condemn others for theirs!

    It is impossible to reconcile these verses from the same epistle without the Spirit of God revealing to us why?

    Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

    compared to:

    Rom 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

    Well, why the Law then if the mind of the flesh cannot submit to it, then?

  2. "One thing you can say about Thibodaux, he has the virtue of persistence. He never lets his track record of failure get in the way of yet another failed attempt."

    Can we add that bald head Arminian professor to this list? What's his name?

    And let's not forget John Loftus too. He deserves to be on this list too.