Saturday, February 18, 2017

"If Calvinism is true, the gays are right!"

I was referred to this video:

Normally I wouldn't bother commenting on Leighton Flowers or Steve Gaines because that's low-hanging fruit. Out of fairness, I generally critique high-level proponents of a position rather than popularizers. However, it's possible to be too high-minded for one's own good. Most freewill theists aren't getting their freewill theism from sophisticates like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Alexander Pruss, and Peter van Inwagen, but from popularizers like Flowers, so there's some value in commenting on Flowers. Flowers says wants to hear how a Calvinist would respond to the challenge. We'll see about that.

I didn't listen to the clips he played of White. That doesn't interest me. I'll begin by quoting from the video:

Do homosexuals have a point when they say I was born like this? I was born with these desires. I was born with same-sex attraction. God made me like this. If what the Calvinists teaches is true with regard to total inability and meticulous determinism, then are they correct in their defense? Do they truly have that excuse? Is it true that God has ultimately determined which choices they will make and the desires that will ultimately determine their choices? And thus I'm not really responsible for my choices. I can't really resist this temptation. I can't stop being homosexual because this is the way God made me. I want to hear what a Calvinist would say in defense of that. If you believe that God is responsible for everything that happens…you can't have it both ways. If God predestined it then God is responsible. 

That's rife with confusions:

i) Calvinism has a doctrine of absolute predestination, and Calvinism has a doctrine of meticulous providence.

Calvinism per se doesn't have a theory of the will, or human psychology. Calvinism doesn't imply that our desires ultimately determine our choices. That may or may not be true, but it's not an implication of Calvinism. Calvinism doesn't have a theory of causation. 

ii) Calvinism doesn't imply that our choices are determined by our nature, genetics, or hormones. Calvinism is neutral on physical determinism and genetic determinism. Those are not theological positions.

According to Calvinism, a human agent can never think, choose, or act contrary to how he was predestined to think, choose, or act. A human agent is never "contra-causally" free in that regard.

But Calvinism is neutral on whether a human agent is free to resist his hormones, genetic programming, social conditioning, environmental controls, &c. Those are not theological positions. Rather, those are philosophical or scientific positions. According to Calvinism, most events come to pass through ordinary providential means, but Calvinism doesn't specify what those means are. 

iii) Flowers seems to be using idiosyncratic terminology. In standard Reformed usage, we talk about total depravity and spiritual inability, not "total inability". In the classic formulation of the Westminster Confession, fallen man has "wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto" (WCT 9.3). 

That's not equivalent to "total inability". 

iv) What does it even mean to say a homosexual was born with homosexual impulses? The sex drive doesn't kick in until adolescence.

Perhaps that's a clumsy way of saying homosexuals were born with a genetic program that will cause them to develop homosexual impulses with the onset of adolescence. Some people are hardwired to experience homosexual propensities when they hit puberty. Maybe that's what he means. But as it stands, the way Flowers has framed the issue is nonsensical.

v) I daresay most homosexual are atheists. So they don't think God made them that way. I daresay most of them say that just to put Christians on the spot, and not because that's what they really believe.

vi) I'd say that according to Calvinism, God is responsible for everything that happens. But that doesn't mean God is solely responsible. And that doesn't mean God is culpable. 

vii) Predestination doesn't entail that homosexual impulses are immutable. According to Calvinism, if you're a teenage homosexual, that's because God predestined you to be a teenage homosexual. But that doesn't imply that you will be a twenty-something homosexual, a middle-aged homosexual, or lifelong homosexual. What God has predestined you to be at present doesn't predict for what God has predestined you to be in the future. 

To take a comparison, if you were predestined to be a teenage atheist, that doesn't entail that you were predestined to be a twenty-something atheist, a middle-aged atheist, or lifelong atheist. Some people change–because God predestines change. 

viii) Likewise, if you succumb to temptation, that's because God predestined you to succumb to temptation. But by the same token, if you resist temptation, that's because God predestined you to resist temptation. Predestination in general doesn't imply that you can't resist temptation. Rather, it depends on what God predestined in any particular situation.

Calvinism does not imply that a sinner can't act contrary to his sinful impulses. Rather, Calvinism takes the position that a sinner can't act contrary to whatever he was predestined to do. 

So why not just create a bunch of people who want to worship him from the beginning and do away with all the pain and suffering and heartache and millions upon millions of people eternally burning in hell…There's no reason for the suffering unless there's true contra-causal freedom. 

i) It doesn't occur to Flowers that a fallen and redeemed world has distinctive goods that can't occur in an unfallen world. Take soul building virtues. Those are second-order goods. They presuppose the existence of natural and moral evil.

ii) Likewise, an unfallen world won't have the same bunch of people as a redeemed world. The alternative which Flowers proposes eliminates pain and suffering at the cost of eliminating many individuals, including heavenbound individuals, whose existence depends on a world history where pain and suffering exist. Absent the Fall, Flowers wouldn't exist–or his parents and grandparents. He's the end-result of chains events that include pain and suffering. So there are tradeoffs. 

God unchangeably determines man's desire and circumstances so that he cannot refrain from acting out in his homosexual tendencies and desires as was ordained by God.

That's confused. According to Calvinism, God unchangeably predetermines whatever happens. But that doesn't mean God predetermines that nothing changes. To the contrary, God predestined change. God predestined the timeline. Events happen, things change, according to God's antemundane plan.

When you remove choice, when you remove freedom, you ultimately have God redeeming his own determinations, which certainly doesn't make any sense.

Some people make statements that seem self-evidently true to them because they don't consider obvious counterexamples. For instance, drama is typically defined in terms of conflict and conflict resolution. A novelist or dramatist or screenwriter or director first creates a dramatic situation in order to then relieve the dramatic tension. There's nothing counterintuitive about a creative agent who intentionally causes a problem in order to solve the problem. That's because the problem is a source of dramatic potential. And the resolution leads to enlightenment. The characters undergo a transformative experience that raises them to a higher plane than before the crisis. 

I'd like to make a final observation. If Arminians like Leighton Flowers and Steve Gaines believe in liberty of indifference, then they presumably think human agents are constantly poised a knife-edge between good and evil. You can be humanitarian one moment, and a serial killer the next. You can flip at any moment as you teeter on the precarious balance between good and evil. Nothing causes your will, so your morality is chronically unstable. 

That would make social relationships incredibly hazardous. That would make Flowers and Gaines incredibly dangerous to be around. Dare not turn your back on them. 

Yet in general, people exhibit a certain fixity of character. How do Arminians like Gaines and Flowers account for that stability if the will is uncaused? 


  1. Steve,
    How can we undestand Revelation 22.11, avoinding the error of hypercalvinism, that people (i.e., reprobate) don't have a duty to believe the gospel?
    In practical terms: how do we reconcile Revelation 22.11 with Acts 17.30?
    Is the Revelation passage saying that I don't have to practice justice and holiness if I'm unjust and unholy?

    1. Commentators puzzle over that verse. Here are the two best interpretive options:

      i) It may indicate that there will aways be good and evil. That continues into eternity. The contrast between the saints and the damned, the new Eden and the lake of fire.

      ii) Coming on the heels of the final judgment, and coming just before v12, it may be a warning to evildoers that this is the fate which awaits them if they remain wicked. If the "filthy" continue in their filthy ways, they will suffer the same eschatological judgment that John has described. So it might be for rhetorical shock value to shake some complacent sinners out of their indifference.

      Conversely, if you're currently faithful, stay faithful, and you will be rewarded.

  2. Do you think libertarian freedom is arbitrary or incoherent?

  3. How would you answer the problem of evil if you don't believe in freewill theism?

    1. He has talked about it.

      He also points out that freewill doesn't supply a fully cohesive answer . Like it only touches upon human volition , but that leaves natural evil.

  4. I've discussed this in detail on multiple occasions. For now I'll make one observation:

    Some goods are contingent on some evils. These are called second-order goods. For instance, suppose a coupled gets married, then the wife has an affair and walks out on the marriage. (Or it could be the husband. Makes no difference.)

    The husband then remarries and has kids by his second wife. His first wife's adultery is evil. Deserting a faithful husband is evil.

    Yet something good happened as a result of that evil which would not have happened absent that evil. Children were born to the second marriage who would not otherwise exist.

    If God were to prevent that evil, his preemptive action would entail the loss of the attendant good.