Monday, December 19, 2016

Powerful love

Some recent exchanges I've had on Facebook with Jerry Walls and his entourage:

i) I don't object to satire. However, satire is only amusing if it's clever. To be witty, it needs be clever. Jerry's efforts at satirizing Calvinism are too sophomoric to be entertaining. I don't think they're amusing, not because I find them offensive, but because they're witless. 

ii) Satire carries the peril that, in the nature of the case, satire caricatures the target. If people judge a position by the satire, then they are judging a caricature of the position rather than the actual position. This, in turn, fosters uninformed contempt. 

The only people who are inclined to find his satires amusing are freewill theists. So he's playing to the choir. There is, though, a moral and spiritual danger in pandering to prejudice. Playing to an audience that's only to happy to equate a hostile or spiteful parody with the actual position. Indeed, the reaction of Jerry's groupies bears out that point. 

iii) Calvinists have no problem singing joy to the "world". That's only incongruous on Jerry's interpretation of the "world".

And to your second post: you can make difficulties out of God's love or God's power (or both, to be sure). For some reason, Calvinists seem to find the former the more reasonable and appealing approach. That seems odd, given our excellent reasons for thinking that our power is even less like God's power than our love is like God's love."

i) Your comment was directed at a different commenter than me. That said, Calvinism doesn't set God's love in opposition to God's power. Rather, it's Arminian polemicists like Jerry who posit a false dichotomy between God's power and God's love in Calvinism. 

For instance, because God loves the elect, he deploys his power to ensure their salvation. There's no tension between divine love and divine power in that case. To the contrary, God's power facilitates his love in that case.

ii) Jerry harps on the question of whether a Calvinist may consistently say that God loves the reprobate. Suppose he can't? That would only be a damaging statement if one assumes that God morally defective unless he loves each and every sinner. Speaking for myself, I don't think there's anything inherently objectionable about God not loving the reprobate.

iii) That said, it isn't necessarily incongruous to say the Calvinist God loves the reprobate. For one thing, even the Calvinist God can't save every possible person. Although the Calvinist God could create a world in which everyone is saved, that comes at the expense of many people who wouldn't exist in such a world. In principle, the Calvinist God could regret his inability to save every possible person. He could love those he predestined to damn, but damn them anyway, for a world in which everyone is saved has a different history than a world in which some people are saved and some people are damned. Some people go to heaven in a world where some people are damned who wouldn't even exist in an alternate timeline. Not all hypotheticals are compossible. 

iv) Theoretically, the Calvinist God might create a multiverse in which some people who are damned in our world are saved in a parallel universe. If that existed, there's no presumption that God would reveal it to the denizens of our world, or vice versa. 

"through which I read things such as 1 John's affirmation that God is love…"

The statement that God is love is entirely consistent with Calvinism. 

"John 3:16's similar affirmation."

That, too, is entirely consistent with Calvinism. 

"The fatal flaw of Calvinism is the assumption that God's power must look like human power, while God's love doesn't have to."

That's not a Calvinist assumption. Exclusive love is a commonplace of human experience. Indeed, human love has an inextricable element of partiality. Humans always love some people more than others.

Keep in mind that it's typically freewill theists who pose a dichotomy between divine and human love. On the one hand they say God's universal love is necessitated by his nature. It isn't possible for God to refrain from loving everyone, for that's an essential divine attribute. On the other hand, human love, to be real love, must be free either to love or to withhold love.

There's that central tension in freewill theism. Is love libertarian or necessitarian? They say it's necessitarian in reference to God, but libertarian in reference to man, then turn around and tell us that Calvinists have an unrecognizable concept of love. But, of course, it's freewill theists who make divine and human love radically disanalogous.

Yes, a libertarian free choice to create others with whom he would share his love.

So, Jerry, you're saying that God can either love or not love sinners? His essential nature doesn't mean he must love sinners?

No, I am saying he can create or not create other beings with whom to share his love. Like a married couple deciding to have or not to have a baby. But having chosen to create, he will love all he creates. But you already know exactly where I stand on all this.

i) Which therefore concedes my original point that there's a drastic dichotomy between the way freewill theists define divine and human love. Thanks for the confirmation.

ii) Presumably, you think parents have the libertarian freedom not to love their kids. So your parallel is disanalogous at the critical point of comparison.

iii) Before the advent of contraception, married couples didn't really choose to have children. Rather, the choice was whether or not to have sex. And, of course, there's not much point to a Platonic marriage.

You are going against Paul Helm there. At least he argues that Calvin thinks God has libertarian freedom, and appears to agree with the position he ascribes to Calvin. Actually I think Calvin agrees with you. The traditional view, in contrast, would be that God does have libertarian freedom with regard to creation."

It's a lot more complicated than that:

1. "Libertarian freedom" is a term of art. The way in which contemporary philosophers explicate the concept can't just be read back into 16C theological discussions. The concept has undergone a lot of development since Calvin. And there are different models of libertarian freedom.

2. To my knowledge, there are two basic models of libertarian freedom in contemporary philosophy:

i) Ultimate sourcehood

On that definition, God has libertarian freedom because God is paradigmatically the source of his own deliberations, choices, and actions. That follows from divine aseity.

ii) Principle of alternate possibilities

On that definition, an agent is free if he could do/choose otherwise given the same antecedent conditions. The past is identical right up to the point where the agent might have chosen differently.

In application to God, however, that's only partially true. Although it's true that God could have chosen otherwise, that can't be defined against the backdrop of antecedent conditions or the past, since God has no past or external antecedent conditions leading up to his choice. Certainly not if God is timeless. And there were no conditions outside of God prior to creation.

iii) Other complications in traditional debates over divine freedom include a range of knotty issues regarding absolute power, ordinate power, nominalism (e.g. Scotus, Ockham), Buridan's Ass, and the principle of sufficient reason (Leibniz).

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