Saturday, June 21, 2014

Euthanizing the damned

Universalism and annihilationism are competing heresies:

I do not know how annihilationism can be understood as an act of divine love, except in the sense that euthanizing our pets is preferable to allowing them to suffer needlessly. Is this the best Omnipotent Love can do? Does God obliterate the damned with or without their permission? However you cut it, annihilationism is a huge defeat for the Kingdom of God.

    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Discovering God's goodness

    Why trust Scripture to be a true revelation and guide if God is not good in some way analogous to our best ideas of goodness? 
    You sacrifice not only your child but also your moral intuitions in the name of worshiping a God whose “goodness” is utterly at odds with the normal meaning of that term.
    i) Walls and Olson routinely make statements like this. It's part of their stereotypical case for Arminianism. They begin with their preconception of goodness, which they self-servingly equate with the "normal" understanding of goodness. They don't cite any polling data to back up their sweeping claim. Instead, it's just a circular exercise in defining "goodness" by reference to Arminianism.
    ii) But there's another flaw in their methodology. Necessary, the very existence of evil should affect our understanding of what God is prepared to do or allow. Necessarily, the kinds of evils we observe in the world or see narrated in Scripture should inform our understanding of what God is willing to do or allow.
    Therefore, this topdown methodology, in which Arminians begin with pious abstractions, with their preconceived idea of what a good God would tolerate, is an artificial postulate that fails to connect with the facts on the ground. What a good God would do, permit, or prevent, is something we must learn from revelation and experience. That's something we discover, not something we intuit. 

    A telling omission

    On his Facebook page, Jerry Walls considers it a "telling admission" that WSC doesn't include "love" in its pithy definition God:

    "What is God?
    God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."
    --Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4

    Well, since he brings it up, here's another telling admission:

    2. We believe in one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who possesses perfect and exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, and future, and who preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things so that nothing in the world happens without either his causation or permission. God is the author of good but not of evil. Yet even evil is governed by God in that God limits it and directs it to an end fitting with his overall plan and purpose.

    Sins of omission

    Arminians like Roger Olson place enormous stock in the distinction between God allowing an evil to occur, and God intending, causing, determining, and/or rendering it certain to occur. Let's consider two hypothetical examples to illustrate the alleged distinction:

    1) I have a one-year-old child. I hold him underwater in the bathtub until he drowns.  
    2) I'm sitting on my chaise lounge in my backyard patio. I watch my one-year-old child fall into the swimming pool. I know he can't swim. I sit there sipping lemonade while he drowns.

    i) I assume Arminians would classify (1) as murder. What about (2)?

    ii) I didn't create the circumstances leading up to my one-year-old falling into the pool. I didn't anticipate his falling into the pool. I didn't push him into the pool. And I didn't cause his lungs to fill with water. 

    So, by Arminian logic, I didn't murder him. Indeed, by Arminian logic, I'm not even culpable for his death.

    iii) Some philosophers would say that by my failure to interrupt that chain-of-events, I did cause his death. 

    But even if I didn't technically cause his death, how is that distinction exculpatory? 

    iv) It could also be argued that by my failure to interrupt that chain-of-events, I rendered the fatal outcome certain. All I had to do was do nothing to ensure the outcome.

    v) But suppose it wasn't quite a sure thing. Suppose there was a chance my one-year-old would find a way to climb out at the last minute. If I wait and see whether or not he will drown, does that let me off the hook, so long as his drowning was not inevitable?

    vi) Since his death by drowning is a foreseeable consequence of my inaction, did I not intend the outcome? 

    vii) Keep in mind that in a classical Arminian model of divine creation and providence, God is far more involved than (2). So (2) is a limiting case. 

    Opinion: The U.S. Shouldn't Choose Sides Iraq

    We don’t know how things are going to develop in Iraq. But I think this sort of thing needs to be said early and said often:

    Rand Paul, from this morning’s WSJ:

    Though many claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan on foreign policy, too few look at how he really conducted it. The Iraq war is one of the best examples of where we went wrong because we ignored that.

    Did God will sin?

    There are some scrupulous Christians who think the very effort to develop a theodicy is unseemly or even blasphemous. To justify the existence of sin makes evil disguised good. And it makes God complicit in sin. By the same token, freewill theists wax indigent when Calvinists say there's a qualified sense in which God willed sin. 
    Now imagine if Adam never fell. Imagine if Lucifer never fell. Imagine having a scholastic debate about whether God would allow evil into our morally pristine, unfallen world. The same people who revile theodicies, the same people who revile Calvinism, would consider it unthinkable, indeed sacrilegious, to suppose a holy God would ever permit evil to exist. God is too pure to allow impurity to sully his world. They'd carry on like Abdiel lecturing Lucifer in Paradise Lost. We'd be regaled with inspiring speeches.  
    But, of course, that train already left the station. So freewill theists can't fall back on a priori arguments about how a holy God would never let evil happen. For we confront the a posteriori reality of evil everyday.  
    Hence, every Christian philosopher and theologian must begin with that unsavory starting-point. Every Christian philosopher and theologian must take that as a given. We commence with the factuality of evil, and work back from there. Indeed, evil is a presupposition of Christianity. Like it or not, you can't avoid saying that, in some sense, God willed sin. It's too late in the game to shout "Sacrilege!" "Blasphemy!" The very existence of moral evil means God has taken certain theological options off the table. We must deal with what's left. Seek the wisdom in what is–or will be. Not what might have been. 

    Arminian limited atonement

    You might think the title of my post is oxymoronic. Surely "Arminian limited atonement" is a contradiction in terms. Surely unlimited atonement is both an Arminian essential as well as a position that differentiates Arminianism from the dreaded Calvinism. 
    But that depends. Depends on what else an Arminian might like to include in the package. Suppose you're an Arminian annihilationist (e.g. I. H. Marshall, Randal Rauser, Scot McKnight, Clark Pinnock). Well, in that event, maybe something has got to give. Maybe you need to relinquish unlimited atonement to make room for annihilationism. Does conditional immortality logically commit the annihilationist to limited atonement? Case in point:

    Glenn Peoples  
    Hi Scot. Thanks so much for your interest in this project! 
    The second argument is not quite as stated here. The argument is that all the dominant views on the atonement - and certainly those that are taken seriously by Evangelicals - involve some type of substitution or exchange. 
    So Jesus stood in for others in some way (e.g. as a penal substitute, or a ransom in the stead of the captives). But in standing in for those who are saved through him, what did Jesus do? 
    The answer is that he died. That presents us with a vivid picture of what would come to all humanity were it not for the saving intervention of the one who stood in our place. Our lot would be death - like the death that Jesus suffered for us. The death of Christ makes best sense if the wages of sin is literally death. And so that is what will in fact finally come to those who are not saved through Christ. 

    Glenn Peoples 

    Scot, It's conditionalism in the sense that it posits the fate of sinners as death. So they don't receive life. If they reject the cross, then nobody has stood in their place, and so they will receive the death that sin brings about. However, those who embrace the cross have someone who stood in their place: Christ. He took our death upon himself, so that it is no longer our fate. As We say in the liturgical churches: Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life. Jesus' death shows us, to put it bluntly, what hell is like. 
    As it turns out, some traditionalists - especially those who believe in penal substitution - have realised this implication. They see that if Jesus took the place of sinners, and Jesus literally *died*, then annihilationism / conditionalism is helped, for it presents the fate of sinners as literal death. Those traditionalists respond, not by embracing conditionalism, but, alarmingly, but denying that Jesus' death atones for sin, claiming instead that Jesus endured the spiritual wrath of God on the cross prior to his death. 
    So receiving immortality is conditional on having Christ die for us (or, if that sounds too Calvinistic: it depends on having that death appropriated to us). Otherwise we would receive the death that he died.

    From the grads

    It's that time of the year again. Graduation season is upon us. From high school to college or university and grad school, etc. I trust I echo the deepest sentiments of our most recent graduates when I say:

    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    Corduan responds to Olson

    OT rape laws

    Public education and intelligent design

    Is it evil to decree evil?

    One of the stock objections to Calvinism goes like this: If it's wrong to do wrong, then it's wrong to cause or determine someone else to do wrong.

    No doubt this has a certain facile appeal. It seems to be logical. But is it really? One way to test naive intuitions is to consider counterexamples. 

    i) Suppose a motorist is driving along a lonely backroad. Suddenly a 10-year-old boy emerges from the tall grass, waving his hands. 

    The motorist stops. The boy explains breathlessly that he and his little brother were playing in the field when his brother fell into an abandoned mine shaft. 

    Normally, the motorist would park his car on the shoulder and check it out. It's his duty to render assistance in that situation. 

    Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the motorist hesitates, then drives away, leaving the frantic boy behind. He feels guilty. 

    Unbeknownst to him, this was a trap. The father uses his son to waylay unsuspecting drivers. When they follow the boy into the field, the father emerges from the tall grass, shoots them in the back, and steals their wallet. 

    On this occasion, God suppressed the motorist's altruistic urge. Although the motorist did wrong by failing to heed his conscience, this saved his life. 

    ii) Let's consider a variant on the same story. A motorist is driving along a deserted road a night. Up ahead he sees a woman by the side of the road. The hood of her car is raised. 

    He knows he has a moral obligation to come to the aid of a vulnerable woman, yet from some inexplicable reason he continues driving. 

    As it turns out, this was a trap. The woman is the girlfriend of a sociopath. Her sicko, psycho boyfriend hides in the backseat while she plays the stranded motorist and flags down well-meaning drivers. When a good Samaritan tries to help her out, the boyfriend emerges from the car, kneecaps the good Samaritan, tosses him in the trunk, drives to their lair, and proceeds to vivisect his latest victim. 

    On this occasion, God suppressed the motorist's altruistic urge. Although the motorist did wrong by disregarding his sense of duty, this saved his life.

    iii) Perhaps a freewill theist would say that because God caused or determined the motorist to ignore his conscience, the motorist didn't do wrong. Didn't sin.

    But in that event, in what sense did God make him do wrong? And if (ex hypothesi) the motorist didn't sin–because God determined his inaction–then in what sense did God do wrong by determining his inaction? 

    Doesn't the original objection generate a dilemma for the objector? 

    iv) A freewill theist might object that these are unrealistic scenarios. 

    a) That's generally true, although I'd venture to say there must be real-life situations in which a Christian was subconsciously dissuaded from taking a particular action by God because God was protecting him from harm. I expect some Christians have discovered, in hindsight, that God intervened to protect them, even though they were unaware of the fact at the time.

    b) A fixture of philosophical analysis is to consider counterexamples. This isn't just an intellectual game. Philosophers want to produce generalizations. The way to test a generalization is to consider counterexamples. If there are exceptions, then does the principle still hold true? This is important in ethics. 

    v) But let's consider a more realistic scenario. Suppose predestination is true. Historically, many people died in childhood. That's still the case in the Third World.

    Some children die of neglect. They had neglectful parents or guardians. Some died in orphanages.

    I'm sure the cumulative number of neglect fatalities is high. If it's wrong to cause a child to die of neglect, is it wrong to cause someone to cause a child to die of neglect? 

    Normally, we'd say that's true. But aren't we making tacit assumptions about how the child would turn out had he grown up?

    Odds are, some children who died of neglect would become violent criminals if they survived. Of course, you and I aren't privy to those counterfactual outcomes. But we're considering this from a divine perspective. 

    If God causes or determines a parent or guardian to cause a child in their care to die of neglect–a child who, had he survived, would grow up to be a serial killer–did God do wrong by causing (or determining) the parent or guardian to do wrong? 

    Although it may seem counterintuitive to say so, in this situation, God is inculpable for causing a second party to do something culpable. 

    vi) A freewill theist might object that even if it wasn't wrong for God to do that, this won't suffice for other situations which lack those mitigating circumstances. But even if that's the case, I'm probing the question of whether, in principle, it is intrinsically wrong for God to cause or determine a human to do wrong. If there are exceptions, then a freewill theist can't object to Calvinism on those grounds as a matter of principle. He must downshift to a case-by-case analysis. 

    vii) Apropos (vi), according to skeptical theism, there may often be extenuating circumstances which mitigate an apparently gratuitous evil, but we're in the dark. Moreover, freewill theists resort to skeptical theism when they posit that God always has some morally sufficient reason for permitting horrendous evil, even if we can't imagine what the reason might be. So it's not as if the Calvinist is guilty of special pleading at this point. Or if he is, the freewill theist is equally guilty. 

    Pinning Walls to the wall

    I'm going to comment on some statements Arminian philosopher Jerry Walls recently made on his Facebook page:

    Jerry Walls Maul, I added the word severely the very first time to preclude the sort of counterexample you give about gum. I'm also inclined to think that scenarios like the one you construct have no plausibility for God, who is not beset with the sort of limitations faced by the father in your scenario.

    That's an odd comment. As an Arminian (with strong open theist sympathies to boot), Walls most definite thinks God is beset with severe limitations regarding what he can cajole humans into doing. So isn't he creating a dilemma for himself? If he downplays divine limitations vis-a-vis human free agents, then it's harder for him to draw an invidious contrast between Reformed theism and freewill theism. If, on the other hand, he stresses divine limitations, then he plays into Maul's counterexample. 

    Jerry Walls Okay, this could go on all day. Time will indeed tell. I agree that Calvinists have had few philosophically sophisticated adherents. And after they have made their case, I may have write another book down the road. And as for exegesis, well, Calvinism is overwhelmingly a minority position in the church at large. That hardly settles the matter but it is question begging to say you have the edge, (even hands down) in view of that fact. Not to mention that many of the best of today (NT Wright, Witherington, Joel Green, Craig Keener) do not support Calvinism.

    It's funny what people say, including smart people like Walls, when their back is pinned to the wall.

    Walls is a Wesleyan-Arminian with one foot in open theism. That's a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset. 

    Arminianism didn't even exist until the 17C. Wesleyan Arminianism didn't exist until the 18C. And open theism didn't exist until the late 20C. 

    Most professing Christians are either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Within Protestantism, you have Lutheran opponents of Arminianism as well as Calvinist. 

    By historical indices, isn't Jerry's Wesleyan-Arminianism-cum-open theism overwhelmingly a minority position in the church-at-large?

    Also, many of the best Protestant Bible scholars reject Calvinism because they agree with Wesley's starting-point: whatever the Bible means, it can't mean that!

    Their moral intuition is choo-choo pulling the caboose of Scripture. 

    Moreover, Arminians in academia (unlike Internet apologists) increasingly disregard whatever they find offensive in Scripture. 

    Jerry Walls Maul: to be clear, my internal critique is twofold: 1) Calvinists, particularly popular writers, often trade on libertarian freedom by saying things that do not make sense on compatibilist assumptions. So one critique is to push for more consistency on that score. 2) Calvinists often say things about God's love for all people that are inconsistent with their theology. Again, my point is to push for more consistency and encourage Calvinists to admit that on their view God does not love all people, or certainly not in the sense of doing all he can to promote their true flourishing, ie save them.

    i) Of course, we'd expect popular writers to be philosophically unsophisticated. Is Austin Fischer philosophically astute?

    ii) On the second point, this is part of Jerry's schtick. He acts as if these Calvinists are deliberately mendacious. Lowballing Calvinism to dupe the unsuspecting and sell the product.

    It doesn't even seem to occur to him that for Calvinists like Piper, this is a case of theological paradox. On the one hand, they think Scripture teaches reprobation. On the other hand, they think there's a sense in which God loves the reprobate. They sincerely believe Scripture teaches both propositions.

    They're perfectly aware of the apparent tension between these two claims, but out of fidelity to their understanding of Scripture, they accept the paradox. 

    It's not unusual for Christians, including philosophers and theologians, to accept paradoxical doctrines. For instance, some Arminians admit the metaphysical tension between God's foreknowledge and man's libertarian freedom. They defer to mystery at that point. 

    iii) In addition, if we take the position that God can only instantiate one possible world, then it's not hard to see how God might love the reprobate even though he damns them. Yes, he could save them, but each possible world has tradeoffs. 

    I'm not saying that's the correct explanation. I incline to a different position. But many Christian philosophers and theologians assume that God can only instantiate one possible world. If that's the case, then, in fact, God could regret the fate of the reprobate. But that's the price of certain otherwise unobtainable goods. 

    Ironically, freewill theists like W. L. Craig make similar arguments. 

    Can Jerry prove that God is able to instantiate multiple alternate possibilities? 

    Jerry Walls And there's really nothing complicated about the universalism question as it relates to Calvinism. Sophisticated Calvinists are moving in that direction because otherwise Calvinism is morally indefensible. But universalism is NOT historic Calvinism and to embrace it is to give up historic Calvinism. 

    This is going to be fun:

    And there's really nothing complicated about the annihilationism question as it relates to Arminianism. Sophisticated Arminians (e.g. Clark Pinnock, Randal Rauser, I. H. Marshall, Scot McKnight) are moving in that direction because otherwise Arminianism is morally indefensible. But annihilationism is NOT historic Arminianism and to embrace it is to give up historic Arminianism. 

    And there's really nothing complicated about the postmortem salvation question as it relates to Arminians. Sophisticated Arminians (e.g. Jerry Walls) are moving in that direction because otherwise Arminianism is morally indefensible. But postmortem salvation is NOT historic Arminianism and to embrace it is to give up historic Arminianism.

    And there's really nothing complicated about the open theism question as it relates to Arminianism. Sophisticated Arminians (e.g. Clark Pinnock, Roger Olson, Jerry Walls) are moving in that direction because otherwise Arminianism is morally indefensible. But open theism is NOT historic Arminianism and to embrace it is to give up historic Arminianism.

    And there's really nothing complicated about the fallibility of Scripture question as it relates to Arminianism. Sophisticated Arminians (e.g. Randal Rauser, Roger Olson, Bill Arnold) are moving in that direction because otherwise Arminianism is morally indefensible. But the fallibility of Scripture is NOT historic Arminianism and to embrace it is to give up historic Arminianism.

    And there's really nothing complicated about the New Perspective on Paul question as it relates to Arminianism. Sophisticated Arminians (e.g. Brian Abasciano) are moving in that direction because otherwise Arminianism is morally indefensible. But the New Perspective on Paul is NOT historic Arminianism and to embrace it is to give up historic Arminianism.

    Jerry Walls Well, if you want something authoritative and detailed, see Brian Abasciano's commentary on Romans 9. Or NT Wright or Ben Witherington's commentaries on Romans.

    In the past I've interacted with Abasciano and Witherington. But for now, what about Jerry's facile appeal to Wright? 

    To my knowledge, Wright views Calvinists, Arminians, and Lutherans as different sides of the same flawed paradigm. The NPP rejects the soteriological, going-to-heaven-when-you-die conception of the Gospel.

    Assuming (ex hypothesi) that Wright's interpretation of Rom 9 is correct, that doesn't just falsify Calvinism–it falsifies traditional Arminianism. The NPP rejects the way in which traditional Protestant theology frames the issue. It's giving the wrong answer because it's asking the wrong question. 

    Jerry Walls Necessarily if S loves S*, S would not determine S* to do wrong action A and then punish him,let alone severely, for doing A. Any punishment remotely like damnation would be severe. Basic intuitions can hardly be proven most of the time.

    Walls is such a sloppy philosopher. Admittedly, this is only Facebook, but where does he ever do better?

    His opening sentence contains several distinct propositions that need to be disambiguated and evaluated separately:

    i) Is it wrong for S to determine S* to do a wrong action?

    ii) Is it wrong for S to punish S* for doing a wrong action that S determined S* to do?

    iii) Is it wrong for S to severely punish S* for doing a wrong action that S determined S* to do? 

    What's the relationship between (i) and (ii)? Does the (alleged) wrongness of (ii) presuppose the (alleged) wrongness of (i)? Does the (alleged) wrongness of (ii) compound the (alleged) wrongness of (i)?