Tuesday, October 04, 2016

An open question to presuppositionalists

I'm going to comment on an article by a guest contributor to Frank Turek's website:

It is my understanding that according to the Calvinistic interpretation of Scripture, human reasoning is so totally depraved that any effort to understand or believe the Gospel is futile. 

That's inaccurate. It combines two different claims in one statement. These need to be distinguished:

i) The unregenerate cannot believe the Gospel

ii) The unregenerate cannot understand the Gospel

Calvinism affirms (i) but denies (ii). According to Calvinism, the unregenerate are able to understand the Gospel. The impediment to the Gospel isn't primarily intellectual, but ethical. They are unreceptive to the truth of the Gospel. 

Unless and until the Holy Spirit regenerates the reprobate mind, a person will continue to suppress the truth regardless of how well it is articulated or argued for.

True, but we need to distinguish between a capacity to understand and a willingness to believe what one understands. They reject it because they understand it, and it rubs them the wrong way (e.g. Jn 3:19).

That's not just a Calvinist distinction. This is corroborated by experience. It's very common for people to reject unwelcome truths out of hand. People tend to accept what they are predisposed to accept and reject what they are predisposed to reject. We see this all the time in the culture wars.

In addition, the Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty entails that God causally ordains all things that come to pass.

I don't know what Toy means by "causally ordains". What does "causally" add to "ordain"? What does "ordain" add to causally?

It would be clearer to say that God predestines or predetermines whatever happens. Or, if you wish to use causal language, we could recast that in counterfactual terms: nothing happens unless God planned for that to happen. 

There is no sense in which God merely “permits” things to occur. 

There is a sense in which God permits things to happen. God permits what he doesn't prevent. 

It is true, though, that God doesn't merely permit things to occur.

Everything that comes to pass, to include the unbelief of the reprobate, comes to pass because in so happening God will bring the most glory to Himself.

The notion that God does things to "bring glory to himself" is often misstated or misconstrued. God doesn't do anything for his own benefit. God has nothing to gain by what happens in the world. Events reveal the glory of God, but they don't add to God's glory. Rather, God does things for the benefit of the elect.

Here in lies a problem I don’t believe the Presuppositionalist will be able to get out of.

We'll see about that.

Still, while an understanding of this may lead to a Calvinist carefully weighing the decisions he makes in the future, he still must acknowledge that all events in the past have occurred the way they did due to the Sovereign Decree of God.

True. However, let's forestall a common confusion. As even an arch freewill theist like William Hasker:

Before going into the arguments for determinism, it is necessary to remove some misconceptions about the determinist position. To begin with, it must be emphasized most strongly that determinists do not deny that people make choices…Furthermore, the experience of choosing–of seeing alternatives, weighting their desirability and finally making up one’s mind–is not any different whether one is a libertarian or a determinist. For while determinists believe that there are sufficient conditions which will govern their choices, they do not know at the time when they are making a decision what those determinants are or how they will decide as a result of them. So, like everyone else, they simply have to make up their own minds. The difference between libertarian and determinist lies in the interpretation of the experience of choice, not in the experience itself, W. Hasker, Metaphysics, 37.

Determinism involves what lies behind the decision-making process. Often unconscious factors. 

This being said, I would like you to consider someone like Dr. Frank Turek who is not a Calvinist and uses the Classical Apologetics method. Based on the admission of Reformed theologians themselves, it seems to me that a Calvinist has to believe that ultimately the reason that Dr. Turek is in error regarding God’s Sovereignty and the proper apologetic method is because God has not granted it to him to understand these things.

True. Of course, the same dynamic applies within Calvinism. For instance, some Calvinists affirm the eternal generation of the Son while other Calvinist disaffirm the eternal generation of the Son. They can't both be right. God predestined that one Calvinist would be right about that while another Calvinist would be wrong about that.

Just as the reprobate man’s fallen reason can never lead him to God, neither can Dr. Turek’s reason lead him to the truth of Reformed theology unless and until the Holy Spirit grants it to him to understand it.

I'm not sure what Toy means by the "Holy Spirit granting it to him to understand it". Calvinists don't have extra information, supplied by the Holy Spirit, that Turek lacks. This is not about regeneration or even illumination. Rather, is about predestination and providence. For instance, God uses social conditioning to cultivate certain beliefs. 

If Dr. Turek persists in his error, he does so only because God has sovereignly determined before the foundation of the world that he would be in error…

True. Again, though, predestination is different from the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit. 

...for through Dr. Turek’s theological errors God will bring the most glory to Himself. 

Theological error can be a  foil for theological truth. It provides a contrastive background. 

In other words, you can REASON from the text.

Calvinism doesn't deny that people can reason from the text of Scripture. 

Of course our human reasoning is fallen. That’s why the Holy Spirit has to reveal the truth to us. I can know that my exegesis is correct because I begin epistemologically with God. Having put my faith in God thanks to the Holy Spirit’s regeneration, I can be confident that God has revealed the truth to me.

There may be some lay Calvinists who put it that way, but that's confused. 

i) The Holy Spirit doesn't reveal the true interpretation of Scripture to a reader. At most, sanctification can make a reader more receptive to what Scripture says. 

ii) "Beginning epistemologically with God" is about the justification of knowledge. Epistemic justification. That's a separate issue from exegesis. 

BTW, many lay Arminians say the Holy Spirit reveals the true interpretation of Scripture. That's a part of folk evangelicalism. 

But if that’s the case how could you ever confidently know that anything you believe is true? I suspect you’ll say because God has revealed it to you, but that would just be arguing in a circle. You just admitted that if God wants someone to be in error then they will certainly be in error, including me and including you! How can you know that what God has revealed to you isn’t an error so that He can bring more glory to Himself by your being incorrect?

That's analogous to the Cartesian Demon. If, however, that's a problem for Calvinists, then that's no less a problem for freewill theists. Toy said "Here in lies a problem I don’t believe the Presuppositionalist will be able to get out of." But once you float hypotheticals like that, everyone is in the same boat. Toy could say that conclusion only follows from Calvinism, and he rejects Calvinism, but that's "arguing in a circle", for if God wants Toy to be in error about freewill theism, then Toy has no independent frame of reference to see the error of his ways. So his objection either proves too little or too much. 

I have asked this question to Calvinists before and never received an answer with any more substance than, “You just don’t understand Calvinism!” or “It’s more diamond shaped than that!”

Depends on who you're asking. If I wanted to understand open theism, I wouldn't ask a roommate who happens to be an open theist. Rather, I'd read books by noted exponents of open theism like William Hasker and Alan Rhoda. If I wanted to understand Arminianism, I wouldn't ask a layman who attends a Wesleyan church. Rather, I'd read books and articles by noted exponents of Arminianism like Thomas McCall and I. H. Marshall.

This I think truly exposes the fatal flaw of the Calvinist’s embrace of Divine determinism.

Notice that Toy is raising an a priori objection to Calvinism. Even if the Bible clearly taught Calvinism, Toy will reject the witness of Scripture because he thinks Calvinism suffers from a "fatal flaw". 

As William Lane Craig has stated, once a person embraces determinism of any sort a strange vertigo sets in. One very well may believe true things, but only because they’ve already been determined to believe those things just as much as their opponents have been determined to believe false things. In such a system, nothing can be rationally affirmed.

i) That's a popular philosophical blunder. Determinism doesn't make beliefs ipso facto irrational. If beliefs are determined by an unreliable belief-forming process, that would make them irrational–but if beliefs are determined by a reliable belief-forming process, that would make them rational. Determinism alone is neutral on the rationality of beliefs. Even an eminent freewill theist like Swinburne concedes that fact:

It has been argued that any argument for determinism would be self-defeating. For suppose a scientist discovers an apparently cogent argument for determinism. He will conclude that he has been caused to believe that his argument is cogent. But when we discover of people that they are caused to hold beliefs—e.g. as a result of the way they were educated, or of subjection to drugs—we do not regard them as having a rationally justified belief. To be rational in adopting a belief we have to do so freely, i.e. uncaused, the argument goes. So no one can ever be justified in believing determinism to be true. For one who believes determinism to be true must believe his belief to be caused and so unjustified. (There is a statement of this argument, subsequently retracted, by J. B. S. Haldane in his Possible Worlds, Chatto and Windus, London, 1930, p. 209. For references to other statements of it, including one by Epicurus, and discussion thereof, see K. R. Popper and J. C. Eccles, The Self and its Brain, Springer, New York, 1977, pp. 75 ff.) This argument has, I believe, no force at all. The mere fact that our beliefs are caused is no grounds for holding them unjustified. Exactly the reverse. I argued in Chapter 7 ["Beliefs"] that to the extent that we regarded them as uncaused or self-chosen, we could not regard our beliefs as moulded by the facts and so likely to be true. The point is rather that if we see some belief to be caused by a totally irrelevant factor (e.g. a belief that I now am being persecuted being caused by something irrelevant in my upbringing) then we rightly regard it as unjustified. But a belief that determinism is true could be both caused and justified, if caused by relevant factors, e.g. hearing relevant arguments. Richard SwinburneThe Evolution of the Soul (revised edition) (OUP, 1997), p. 233, fn. 2.

ii) Moreover, Toy fails to consider the alternative. If beliefs are the result of indeterminism, then true beliefs are accidentally true. Whether I believe truth or falsehood comes down to luck of the draw. 

I know that there is more to be discussed, but I don’t believe it is helpful at this point to simply appeal to the Scriptures that a Calvinist would use to defend their view of Divine determinism. Doing so would presume that you are engaging in proper exegesis, which can’t be the case if you are relying on fallen reasoning capabilities…

That's a popular misconception of Calvinism. Calvinism doesn't deny that readers can use reason to engage in proper exegesis. Not only can the regenerate use reason to engage in proper exegesis, but the unregenerate can use reason to engage in proper exegesis. Some secular Bible scholars interpret the Bible more accurately than some Christians. 

…and can’t be rationally affirmed if you are relying on God to have revealed the truth to you.

Again, I don't know what Toy means by God revealing the truth to you. Does he mean a propositional disclosure? If so, Calvinism denies that God conveys extra information to Calvinists in particular or the regenerate in general. 

Simply put, it is impossible to begin epistemologically outside oneself. 

True, but that's distinct from warranted belief. Epistemic justification can certainly include criteria that are external to oneself. Indeed, that's a hallmark of evidentialism–which Toy espouses.

Unless we assume that our reasoning capabilities are generally reliable, arguments about any topic can’t go anywhere.

That piggybacks on Toy's persistent misconception of Calvinism. It's a systematic error that vitiates his entire analysis. 

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed that criticism of presuppositional apologetics often focuses on method. While Toy's approach is ideological, he does begin with this statement:

    "I believe there is a major problem with the Presuppositional Apologetic method and would like to pose that problem to all those who would consider themselves to be Presuppositionalists."

    Now, maybe he doesn't understand the distinction between method and ideology. He certainly misses some distinctions as you pointed out in your analysis. It's certainly true that presuppositionalism begs a certain methodological approach. This methodological approach includes the possibility of using classical and evidential arguments. However, presuppositional apologetics realizes that a person won't come to believe on these arguments alone. In fact, the Bahnsen - Stein debate demonstrated that the classic presuppositional method is itself not enough. Frame went on to develop more practical applications of presuppositionalism, I think, and I have employed some of my own in evangelistic endeavors. But none of these methods, however clever, are in themselves enough. This is what the non-presuppositionalists miss the most in my estimation. It's not about the method. It's a recognition that the method is never enough and that the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration is to be recognized as foremost in the process.