Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dawkins accuses Expelled of deceit

I'm reposting the links to the C. S. Lewis podcasts

Does damnation promote the glory of God

If you go over to Triablogue, you will find all sorts of dismal remarks about how poorly I have made the case for the critics of Calvinism. In the process I do think I have learned a good deal about who Calvinists think about the relevant issues. With respect to some issues, related to biblical interpretation, I don't think I have anything to add to the discussion that has not already been brought up in other discussions of the subject.

What maybe I have come up with, however, is an argument concerning the concept of glory that I don't think has been satisfactorily answered.

To do this I need to narrow my claims a little bit. Initially, when I blogged on this 3 years ago, I said that Calvinists can't solve the problem of evil. But, very quickly, I had to acknowledge that "solving" the problem of evil is a tall order and that it may be difficult to anyone to solve it.

Most study of the problem of evil suggests that with respect to a portion of human suffering, we can come up with possible scenarios according to which we can see why God would permit it. With other suffering, we aren't in a position to see why it occurs, but we are nevertheless entitle to believe that there is an answer even if we can't see it.

With respect to some evils, it seems possible and in some cases easy to see why God permits them. With others, there is considerably more mystery.

Let's take the evil of everlasting suffering in hell. On a free will view I can see how someone might end up permanently in rebellion against God and unable (because they are unwilling to serve) to receive the joys of heaven. Read The Great Divorce for how that goes. But why, on a Calvinist view would anyone end up in hell?

The first answer for the Calvinists has to be that they are sinners and deserve it. This assumes a couple of things, first that a temporal sin can deserve an infinite amount and duration of punishment, and second that humans can deserve retributive punishment for actions that they are determined by another to perform. (This is a strong form of compatibilism. Many compatibilists are not retributivists about punishment. They argue, for instance, that even if determinism is true, you can still deter crime by punishing criminals.) But let's grant these highly counterintuitive claims for the sake of argument. We still need to explain why God would create a permanently unrepentant sinner, when he could preordain them not to sin or preordain them to receive God's irresistible grace and save them.

The unanimous answer in Calvinist theology seems to be that God does it for his own glory. This seems as little counterintuitive as well--people who cause others to suffer for their own glory here on earth are considered bad, not good. But let's grant that counterintuitive claim also. Glory, it seems to me, analytically requires that it be glory in the eyes of someone. (Is there any Scripture verse that suggests a different conception of glory?) On the face of things, the way a God pursuing his own glory to achieve that goal would be to save everyone so that there could be as many people as possible praising Him forever. But no, Calvinists say that God can demonstrate his wrath against sin by having some lost people (lots and lots of lost people, actually). The idea, I take it, is that the saved will praise God more because they recognize God's holiness and absolute opposition to sin by seeing people in hell. And my response is that God, as an omnipotent and completely sovereign being can decree into place any state of mind that he wants without having to use the means of damned souls to create this glory for himself. (Let's also put to the side any Kantian worries about using people as a mere means). So the instantiation of damned essences doesn't serve any conceivable greater good, because that good could be accomplished without the damnations.

I read the Walls passage that Paul referenced about God's glory in damnations, according to which people in heaven see that God has done everything possible to save someone but respects their freedom. Even there I don't think Walls holds that the ultimate purpose of all God's actions is to glorify himself.

Now, the Calvinist can respond by saying that there is a purpose for reprobations, even though we have no clue as to what it is. In fact, Paul constantly reminds me that I said that there have to be possibilities for God that we are not in a position to consider. However, unlike Paul, I am kind of agnostic about what will transpire eschatologically, or how it works. Calvinists claim that they know that there will be some people in hell and that God's predestination, through the means of their own sin, puts them there. The agnosticism the Calvinist at this point can insist upon concerns why.

My conclusion is if people are reprobated there is no understandable reason why this is so. It is completely and totally beyond my comprehension. I can't even see through a glass darkly how this could possibly be justified. The reasons that are offered for reprobating people don't work even on their own terms. That doesn't make the position impossible to hold, just, at least to my mind, a whole lot more difficult. Everyone uses mystery maneuvers at some point (even materialists!) but the less you use them, the more epistemically adequate your position.

What I have shown here is that Calvinists cannot solve the problem of the evil of eternal suffering in hell, in the sense that they can't provide any understandable reason for it. This is a narrower claim than what I began with, but it is still not completely without significance for the credibility of Calvinism.

I'm not appealing to intuition here. Calvinism is counterintuitive in many ways, but I am simply arguing that whatever glory God wants or needs he can accomplish without inflicting eternal punishment on anyone. Therefore, even granting several Calvinistic assumptions, eternal damnation remains an apparently gratuitous evil.

Arminians can "solve" the problem of reprobation in the sense that considerations from their own theology make it somewhat understandable, though hardly problem-free.

It's my contention, however, that the more you appeal to mystery, the worse it is for you epistemically. The more of an explanation you can have for suffering, the better your theology is, all things being equal.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Burk rebuts Witherington

Witherington on divine narcissism

Does Jesus cry crocodile tears?

According to John Wesley, if Calvinism is true, he does:

This premised, let it be observed, that this doctrine represents our blessed Lord, "Jesus Christ the righteous," "the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth," as an hypocrite, a deceiver of the people, a man void of common sincerity. For it cannot be denied, that he everywhere speaks as if he was willing that all men should be saved. Therefore, to say he was not willing that all men should be saved, is to represent him as a mere hypocrite and dissembler. It cannot be denied that the gracious words which came out of his mouth are full of invitations to all sinners. To say, then, he did not intend to save all sinners, is to represent him as a gross deceiver of the people. You cannot deny that he says, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden." If, then, you say he calls those that cannot come; those whom he knows to be unable to come; those whom he can make able to come, but will not; how is it possible to describe greater insincerity? You represent him as mocking his helpless creatures, by offering what he never intends to give. You describe him as saying one thing, and meaning another; as pretending the love which his had not. Him, in "whose mouth was no guile," you make full of deceit, void of common sincerity; -- then especially, when, drawing nigh the city, He wept over it, and said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, -- and ye would not;" EthelEsa -- kai ouk EthelEsate. Now, if you say, they would, but he would not, you represent him (which who could hear?) as weeping crocodiles' tears; weeping over the prey which himself had doomed to destruction!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Calvinism and the burden of proof

I think maybe some consideration of exactly what someone is claiming to prove is taken into consideration here. Suppose my goal is to show that it is reasonable for me to reject Calvinism. If I'm going for that, then I can make a few points. First, I can argue that compatiblism doesn't look good to me, pretty much for reasons given in Van Inwagen's Essay on Free Will 25 years ago, augmented by Bill Hasker's defense of LFW in The Emergent Self. In my view Frankfurt counterexamples are just better and more sophisticated devices for taking one's eyes of the fact that if determinism is true everyone's actions are the inevitable result of causes outside the agent's control, and that if this is so, it is unjust to treat agents as if they were responsible for those actions in the final analysis.

Second, I can point out that as I see it, the glory that God receives in predestinating the lost to eternal punishment is obscure. "Glory" as I understand it, is an audience-relative term. God manifests has attributes, but to whom? To Himself? He is already aware of his own attributes. To the lost? The can't possibly appreciate it. To the saved? Surely, the saved can be brought to a realization that they are there by God's grace without having to damn anyone. So the "greater good" achieved in damning people strikes me as just obscure. Now obscure doesn't mean impossible.

Thirdly, while I do understand hell as a possible outcome so long as people continue to disobey and God, out of respect for their freedom, refuses to forcibly convert them, I do not understand hell as deserved retributive punishment for all sin.
That is, I understand a "natural consequences" view of hell but not eternal retribution per se.

Finally, Calvinism has the consequence that, for those whose loved ones are lost, God intended forever to frustrate the prayers of those who earnestly desire the salvation of their nearest and dearest. Desire for the salvation of others seems to be a holy thing, yet God intended from the foundation of the world to deny these earnest prayers? This just seems deeply puzzling.

All of these points require further defense, and I do know that the resident Calvinists have responded to them. But if we grant that at least some of us think in the above ways, we are left with what seems to me to be a heavy burden of proof to support a case for Calvinism. Does it meet that standard? If there were scholarly consensus on these matters, then perhaps it could, but there is no such consensus.

On the other hand, someone who finds compatibilism sensible, who thinks that punishing the lost eternally a positive good instead of a sad necessity, who finds it plausible to say that a sin deserves an infinite length of punishment because it is against God, would require far less biblical proof to be a Calvinist.

Arguing that an opposing view is irrational is always the hardest thing to do. But I think I have shown here that I have good reason to impose a high burden of proof on Calvinist exegesis here, at least so far as I am concerned.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Calvinist Argument

Paul wrote: ii) Again, Reppert misses the argument: If Scripture is infallible/inerrant in what it teaches T, and if my moral intuitions are fallible and tell me ~T, then ~~T.

Here's the center of what I take to be Paul's argument. And here's the problem. Let's allow the the original autographs are infallible. We don't have those. We have a Greek and Hebrew text which has not been inerrantly copied. We have a texts, lots of them, that are interpreted variously. The "big leaguers" in Biblical scholarship are divided. The best you can come up with on this is "as best I can tell, based on what I take to be the best Biblical scholarship out there, the Scriptures probably teach Calvinism." The inerrancy of Scripture, which is itself a doctrine open to debate amongst genuine Christians, (though Paul may deny this) does not confer certainty to doctrinal conclusions derived from Scripture, if the derivation is produced by fallible processes. Exegesis is not a hard science, like physics.

On the other hand, not only are my moral intuitions fallible, my physical senses also fallible. Nevertheless I can be reasonably sure that I am typing these words on a keyboard at this moment.

Moral intuitions are a legitimate sources of knowledge. I can be in doubt about some of them, but others are held very strongly and have stood up under long reflection and have been informed by Scripture. Faced with what I take to be a strong Calvinist exegetical argument from, say, James White about Romans, alongside a deeply held moral conviction that a God who behaves like a Calvinistic God does would not be good, why am I obligated to follow the exegetical argument instead of the evidence of my moral intuitions? I might change my moral convictions if I think the case is very strong. I might start doubting God's goodness. Or I might conclude that there has to be something wrong with the interpretation. Because of the fallibility of exegetes, however, a general rule that the intuitions must give way seems to me to be unjustified. The only way such a general rule can by justified is if we make an illegitimate transfer from the inerrancy of Scripture to the inerrancy of conclusions derived from Scripture.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A question for Calvinists

I have a question for Calvinists, which I would like to see taken as a request for clarification rather than an attempt at refutation. All the Calvinists in this discussion have told me that they are not theological voluntarists. I take it that theological voluntarism is the view that something is Good because God does it or commands it, and in this instance a being is entitled to the appelation "God" in virtue of His superior power. On that view the idea of an Omnipotent Fiend, to use Lewis's terminology, would be a contradiction in terms. But if you are not a voluntarist, it could certainly turn out that Omnipotent One is not good, and not worthy of worship. Although you believe that the Omnipotent Being is worthy of worship, the great Cosmic Nightmare might turn out to be true, and it could turn out that the Being in charge of everuthing just isn't good.

One question I might now ask is in virtue of what is the "God" of Scripture, as understood by Calvinists, thought of as good, if not His power. What characteristics does the Omnipotent One have that we should worship him. Of course Scripture says that Omnipotent One is good. But, of course, if Scripture is the word of the Omnipotent One, that is precisely what we should expect. It's just the Almighty's spin machine. The Almighty says He is good, and Clinton said he was telling the truth. What else is new? We need some characteristics of the Omnipotent One that provide us with grounds that we are not dealing with an Omnipotent Fiend.

Now, let's suppose that a thorough study of Scripture reveals to me that Calvinism is in fact true, that is, the being in charge of the universe is indeed a Calvinistic God who has predestined some to eternal life and some to everlasting punishment. The Omnipotent One does exist, and God is a reprobator. At first, as I discover this, I ask myself if I might be mistaken in thinking that this reprobating deity would not be good. However, depressingly for me, my intuitions don't budge. It seems true all right that the Omnipotent One has predestined some to heaven and some to hell, but I find that I can't worship Him. I remain convinced that the creature can say to the creator "Why hast thou made me thus." As John Stuart Mill puts it:

I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.

Given the fact that I have now agreed that Calvinism has the facts right, how do you now persuade me that this is right. Yes, I am headed for a showdown with the Almighty in which I stick my finger in the Almighty's face and tell him that I won't worship him since I can't see him as good. Prudentially, I ought to change my mind. But if the world were ruled by an Omnipotent Fiend, then these same considerations would still be present. Is ultimately the reason I ought to worship God the reason given by Jim Croce in the 1970s??

And they say you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off an 'ole Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

If my reading of Scripture leads me to call into question whether or not God is good, it seems question-begging to say that, of course, God in Scripture says He is good. Of course Scripture says God is good, it's God's word.

I am consistently told that I shouldn't lift my moral intuitions up above the Word of God. This works so long as I remain convinced that God is good. Dispelling doubts about God's goodness by appealing to Scripture seems blatantly question-begging.

So my question is this: if we assume that predestination is true, on what basis do we believe that the Predestinator is a good being? If we pose the question that way, it looks as if appeals to Scripture are going to beg the question. You wouldn't dare appeal to my intuitions, now would we? You can't appeal to sheer power, without becoming a voluntarist, which you say you aren't. So how do you appeal to me in this situation. You tell me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Keeping up the exchange with Bnonn

Where does Romans mention anyone’s eternal destiny? Where? Even where individuals are mentioned (Jacob and Esau, and Pharoah) they are elected for historic roles, not for heaven or hell.

I’m not a deconstructionist. It’s just that I am more certain that it is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement than I am that the “world” in John 3: 16 refers to the elect and not to all persons. I’m a fallibilist, not a deconstructionist. I’m not even denying inerrancy by saying this, just affirming the fallibility of my understanding of what the Bible says.

Calvinism attributes to God actions which in any parallel human context would be considered wrong by anyone. Or, rather, I should say the omnipotent one. We are not entitled to use the term “God” unless the being in question is good in some sense that is continuous with the use of the term “good” as it is used in ordinary language. Otherwise, we’re just Humpty-dumptying our terms.

The supreme good, according to Calvinism, is God’s glory. I still don’t know what that means. It looks to me like this theory of the good is just a blank check to justify whatever you think God has done. If God had chosen to save everyone or damn everyone, we would say it was for His glory if we wanted to. So the theory doesn’t explain anything, since it could be used to explain everything.

There’s no uncertainty about predestination so long as you focus on certain passages. If you focus on others, you come out an Arminian or a universalist. In Romans is says whoever believes and confesses is saved, in Philippians it says that eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. Put those two verses together and you get a case for universalism. Of course you can read these passages in the light of the doctrine of everlasting punishment, but can’t you equally read passages about hell in the light of the doctrine of universal salvation? Thus the “elect” who are converted can be perceived as “first fruits.” “Eternal” on this system of exegesis means age-long rather than absolutely eternal.

I would have to admit that I am not in the class of either D. A. Carson or Ben Witherington as exegetes. So far as I can tell, neither are you. Both of these guys know more than I do about Scripture. Carson, I take it, is a Calvinist, Witherington is an Arminian. As is, I believe, N. T. Wright. Or is Wright a universalist? I forget. There is expert opinion on the exegesis of the relevant passages, and it is far from unanimous. These guys are better than me at Scripture scholarship. What I am perhaps good at is the analysis of the meanings of terms, of asking whether a term is used consistently across contexts. If you use words in ways that do violence to their ordinary meanings, then I start objecting.

What does it mean to say that God is good? Is it just a way of saying “God is bigger than you are, and can beat you up forever if you don’t obey him?” If that’s what it means, then the term just doesn’t mean anything.

Are you a theological voluntarist? Your friends over at Triablogue, especially Paul, want to distance themselves from theological voluntarism. You seem closer to it yourself. Are things right just because the most powerful being in the universe has commanded it. I can imagine an Omnipotent Fiend. If theological voluntarism is true, there cannot, by definition, be an Omnipotent Fiend.

We can, and do, bend and grow our conception of goodness in the light of Scripture. But what do we do when we encounter a reading of Scripture that breaks our ordinary moral conceptions, rather than just bend it? As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, “If I bend that far, I’ll break.” We can conclude that Scripture is wrong, that our conceptions are wrong, or that this interpretation of the text is wrong. If we have an expert consensus on these matters, then we could remove doubt about our interpretation and consider the other options.

What makes God God? Is it just His omnipotence? Or we might ask, what makes Scripture Scripture? Remember, there are lots of candidates out there. The Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew Scriptures without the NT, the Bhagavad-Gita. A connections with my own conceptions of good what makes the Christian God and Scripture valid for me.

I won’t call God a liar. I will call God a provider of incomplete information. The theology that the comforters of Job was in accordance with the teachings of many Scriptures. It is the apparent teaching of passages in Deuteronomy and Proverbs that the righteous will prosper on earth and the wicked will suffer on earth. Are those passages lies?

Whatever infallibility God may have, whatever infallibility Scripture may have, cannot be transferred into the hands of fallible exegetes, however expert they may be. Our salvation may be in God’s firm hands, our understanding of that salvation, even with the assistance of Scripture, is in our hands.

Angus Menuge reports on his debate with P Z Myers

“Does Neuroscience Leave Room for God?”

My debate with Dr. PZ Myers at

University of Minnesota at Morris,

8pm-10:30pm, Saturday, April 19th, 2008


Dr. Angus J. L. Menuge

1. Format of the debate. The debate was moderated as follows: each of us had a maximum of 40 minutes to present our case. Then there was a maximum of 30 minutes in which Dr. Myers and I could probe each other’s position with questions. Finally, we opened to the floor and members of the audience could ask questions of either speaker.

2. My presentation. I presented first and made three main points.

(1) First, I argued that materialism is presumed true before looking at the evidence. Richard Lewontin has admitted that he holds to materialism in science as an a priori assumption. My main points were that inflexible adherence to materialism could prevent us from finding the truth, and weakens the claim to have found the best explanation by eliminating competitors to materialism without considering them. But what about those who claim that materialism has such an amazing track record, we should have a presumption in its favor?

(2) My second main point was that materialism does not have such an impressive track record. I noted that Christian theology, not materialism, played a substantive role in the rise of modern science, by justifying belief in laws of nature and in minds reliable enough to discover them. I noted the “Argument from Reason” against Evolutionary Naturalism, which points out that Evolutionary Naturalism predicts minds equipped with useful gadgets, but not ones attuned to discovering truth, especially in theoretical matters having nothing to do with basic survival. By contrast, rational theism predicts that our minds are attuned to the laws of nature, since both reflect the same divine logos.

Moving closer to the central issue of the debate, I argued that there is considerable evidence against the materialist contention that the mind reduces to the brain. There is the “hard problem” of consciousness, that subjective awareness is not explained or predicted by impersonally described states of the brain. Then there is the evidence from neuroscientists such as Jeff Schwartz and Mario Beauregard that, in addition to the bottom-up influence of the brain on the mind, the mind has a top-down influence on the brain (cognitive therapies that exploit neuroplasticity) and on health (psychoneuroimmunology). I focused on how these approaches gave hope to patients by showing that their own conscious choices could play a role in their recovery and health. I also mentioned the remarkable studies of Near Death Experiences by Pim van Lommel. I held up and recommended Jeff Schwartz and Sharon Begley’s The Mind and the Brain, and Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’ Leary’s The Spiritual Brain, and said that if someone is a true skeptic, they should be skeptical of materialism as well as of non-materialistic claims.

(3) My third point was to critique the slew of contemporary materialist attempts to explain away religious belief and experience. I noted that a culture of 1-way skepticism encourages both a presumption that supernatural religions are false without investigating the evidence for their truth claims, and also credulous acceptance of unsubstantiated materialist speculations, such as the “God gene” and “God spot” theories, all of which can be decisively refuted. I then investigate the claim that religion is a “virus of the mind,” and argue that the underlying theory of memes would either discredit everyone’s beliefs or, if it does not, require us to check out the actual evidence for or against them.

3. Dr. P Z Myers’ presentation.

Dr. Myers focused mainly on defining the terms “science” and “God.” He argued that science can only work with what is measurable, and that “God” cannot be defined in a way that is measurable, and so God/theology are irrelevant to science. He claimed that scientists must accept the rule methodological materialism, according to which scientists can believe in any religion they want, but, within science, must restrict themselves to considering only material causes. He likened the scientist to the plumber who must work at the level of what physically works. Indeed, Dr. Myers asserted that science is not about truth, but about what works, and that God is irrelevant to science because “God” is not a tractable concept.

Dr. Myers held up a large standard volume on neuroscience, and asserted that it was better than Schwartz’s and Beauregard’s books, apparently because it was bigger! He then showed some interesting slides detailing the standard “homunculus” model of the brain, mapping various sensations and bodily functions to parts of the brain. He acknowledged the reality of neuroplasticity, but claimed that this could all be understood in terms of chemical processes in the brain, without appeal to consciousness. Yet, interestingly, he admitted that no-one could explain consciousness. Dr. Myers also mentioned a recent scientific experiment showing that in advance of conscious awareness of decision, there is already a 60% probability of action. (He did not, however, claim that this showed there was no free will, and since the result was so recent and under-analyzed, I chose not to take the bait.)

The remainder of Myers’ presentation was focused on the case for the brain’s bottom-up influence on the brain, including the impact of neural deficits and degeneration through illness and age. At one point he made the quite absurd suggestion that some people seem to think that neurons have nothing to do with it! Since I had argued for neuroplascticity and psychoneuroimmunology, this was a bit hard to take. I suppose it was an exaggeration or a joke, designed to make dualists look silly. Dr. Myers’ presentation was frankly depressing, because it left the impression that we are passive products of physical causes, with no ability to take control of our health. Myers did try to claim that he could account for some of the studies I had mentioned, but in terms of one part of the brain taking charge of another. The talk included relatively few slides, some of them showing the plight of family members.

4. Our discussion/debate.

Myers was surprisingly passive in debate and did not really seem eager to spar. I got the sense that he had previously dismissed me as another creationist “ID-iot,” and that he was not really prepared for me to make a serious case. Here are some of the main points of our discussion.

(1) While I agreed with Myers about the evidence of bottom-up causation, I argued that this did not negate the evidence of top-down causation. To refute the idea that consciousness must simply be generated by the brain, I used the analogy of a telephone. If someone calls and we drop the phone and break it, we no longer hear the voice, but the voice is not generated by the phone: the phone transmits it. Likewise the fact that certain thoughts are impossible with neural deficits does not show that the brain generates our thoughts or that our mind is simply a passive shadow of the brain.

(2) I noted that at the end of his review of The God Delusion, Michael Ruse had argued that if the likes of Richard Dawkins continue to claim that Darwinian evolution inevitably supports atheism, then teaching Darwinian evolution in schools would violate the first amendment. Was not the approach to science advocated by Myers likewise against the constitution? In response, Myers said that science only uses methodological materialism, so it does not technically exclude religion, saying that he knew scientists who were Christian who subscribed to Methodological Materialism. (What he did not address was the distinction between those theists who believe in the natural knowledge of God and those who do not. Methodological Materialism favors secular humanists and those theists unconcerned about the natural knowledge of God and discriminates against those who believe God worked detectably in nature by preventing them from exploring scientific evidence for their point of view.)

(3)Wishing to expose the way Methodological Materialism can be held indefinitely, no matter what the evidence, I challenged Myers to define what could convince him that materialism was false, pointing out that if all materialist explanations were working or very promising, I could be persuaded that theism was false. He dodged the question saying it was too hypothetical. I did not get the impression that he has seriously considered the question of what it would be like to learn materialism is false. How, then, can he claim that the materialism of science is purely methodological, which implies it could be dropped if it fails to work in some areas?

(4) I also argued that Myers’ attempt to reduce science to the physically measurable was inadequate, because science postulates theoretical entities that may or may not turn out to be observable. Mendel postulated genes, and these were later shown to be observable. In physics, however, there are plenty of entities (particles, forces, strings etc.) that are at the least unobserved, and also measurement itself presupposes such abstractions as logic and numbers that are inherently unobservable. I agreed with Myers that science should try to get the tractable and observable if it can, but argued that science should not give up if the best evidence points away from the observable. In my view, Myers is maintaining a positivistic view of science which limits science to what is verifiable by observation, but this does not square with Quantum Physics for example, particularly as it recognizes the role of the conscious observer in influencing what is measured.

(5) I asked Myers why, if science was neutral, there were so few studies of the psychology and neurology of atheists and secular humanists, given all the attempts to explain away theistic belief and experience. He surprised me by noting that Schwartz and Beauregard are Christians, suggesting that only theists were interested in the question. This did not jive with all the studies by secularists of the psychology and neurology of atheists cited by Beauregard. I also noted the 3 million dollar European project, “Explaining Religion,” cited in The Economist, March 19th, 2008 (“Where angels no longer fear to tread”).

(6) I also asked why, if science was a free inquiry, Guillermo Gonzalez had been so shabbily treated at Iowa State University. Myers claimed that this was because he had not brought in enough grant money. I pointed out that Gonzalez had 68 peer reviewed science articles, was author of a Cambridge text on astronomy, and that the emails acquired through Iowa’s open record laws showed that Gonzalez’s tenure was denied because of his pro-design views.

(7) Myers and I sparred on the fine-tuning argument. He asserted that there was nothing surprising: we wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t happened. I mentioned John Leslie’s analogy: suppose you are scheduled to be executed by 200 sharpshooters. It would not be a convincing explanation of them all missing, that unless they had, you wouldn’t be here. We would want to know if there was an order from above, a conspiracy, a flaw in the manufacture of the guns, etc.

I had two very big surprises. First, Dr. Myers denied being a Darwinist, which produced the kind of stunned silence one would expect if the Pope announced his non-Catholicity. Myers’ stated grounds were that Darwin has been dead for over a hundred years. I wished I had pointed out that I am on many issues a Platonist, even though Plato has been dead for 2400 years. Second, as I mentioned, Myers denied that science is really about truth. I had to wonder why it was so important for him to exclude design from science if all that matters is what works. After all, I had noted earlier on in my presentation that the Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse agrees that methodological design does work in biology by helping scientists decode the machinery of life.

At the end, I made Myers the offer of trying to set up a special issue of a journal where he could bring in his “cronies” and I could bring in mine to discuss the issue. He found the idea amusing and, so far as I could tell, not without appeal. I do not know if this will happen, but I am going to look into it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On atheists using the Calvinism debate

I certainly don't endorse any attempt by atheists to get points for their own view based on our controversy here. Atheists disagree about all sorts of things. For example, evolutionists never tire of reminding critics of evolution that any controversy between advocates of gradualism and advocates of punctuated equalibilium provides any basis for calling evolution into question. Can't we say that same thing to atheists with respect to this debate?

This was the discussion on Pharyngula prior to PZ's debate with Menuge

Good grief. Why agree to debate if this is your attitude.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Further response to Bnonn

It's not an appeal to authority. I am just presenting Lewis's take on the matter, one that I agree with in point of fact, and which I believe I can defend. The idea that you can somehow theologically to Scripture as a blank slate to be written on with no presuppositions or questions of one's own is alien to my way of thinking, and quite implausible based on my understanding of epistemology.

The trouble is that Scripture only indirectly addresses the problems that we are interested in. In Romans 9, for example, Paul is concerned not about the election of individuals but in explaining the unbelief of Israel and explaining how God's promises were not broken.

What you get in Scripture are some strands emphasizing sovereignty, some emphasizing personal responsiblity, and strands emphasizing the universality of love. So what people do is extrapolate. Strictly speaking Scripture can't answer the question of predestination as you and I would ask it, because it doesn't ask the question. I can extrapolate in ways that require me to set aside my strongest moral convictions (I don't even like saying intuitions here) or I can avail myself of extrapolations that don't require abandoning what I take to be very basic moral convictions.

Scripture doesn't even begin to function authoritatively unless a person thinks there is a omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being. Since God by definition is a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good, what that means is that, at least logically, we have to know how to use the word "good" before we could possibly know how to use the word "God." And Scripture doesn't get its authority until we have the conviction that it comes from God, which we would not be able to recognize even if we had a pre-existing conception of "good."

What I am more or less a skeptic about is the extent to which we can get the precise meaning out of Scripture via historical-grammatical analyses. I don't believe that final doctrinal answers can be read off these kinds of analyses. They are very helpful, but they are quite human attempts to put me inside the mind of people 20 centuries distant from me who spoke a language I don't speak. Further, exegetes seem to me to reflect the theological biases they bring to the text.

Then we have to look closely at the kind of inerrancy we are dealing with. Scripture passages would have led people in OT times to believe that righteous conduct results in earthly reward and wicked conduct results in earthly punishment. Passages in, for example Deuteronomy, would strongly lead us to think that. That's probably was the comforters of Job had in mind. I am sure they were the best exegetes in town. They just got it wrong.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Examining Calvinism

A website devoted to a critical analysis of Calvinism.

J. P. Moreland and the Argument from Consciousness

Ht: John Depoe

There's glory for you

One of the difficult aspects of Calvinist theology, for me, is what happens to certain terms. For me meanings of terms arise from ordinary usage. Otherwise, we get something like this, from Alice in Wonderland;

And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
`I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'
`Would you tell me please,' said Alice, `what that means?'
`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'
`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'
`Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
`Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night,' Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, `for to get their wages, you know.'
(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell you.)

One of the things that has puzzled me about Calvinists is their frequent claim that God reprobates the lost for his own glory. This has always seemed to me like the ballhog basketball star who pads his own statistics for his own glory, even if it costs the team games. Bnonn presents an account of glory which he takes to be biblical:

Now it seems to me that the Bible talks about glory in a number of ways, but when it speaks of God glorifying himself it ultimately is referring to his manifesting his divine attributes. This is an intrinsically good thing, since God is good, in every way, in and of himself. Thus, when he uses Pharaoh and the Egyptians as instruments in whom to manifest his wrath and power (that is, to glorify himself; cf Exodus 14:17-18), it is good that he does so. And how could he glorify these attributes if he did not have sinful vessels in which to do it? Therefore, even on a superficial analysis, it seems quite evidently false that God is deprived of glory by eternally reprobating sinners instead of saving them. Such a view presupposes that God can only obtain glory by being merciful or “loving” (but I’ve shown that even then that would not be genuine love). Now even on its own terms this might well fail, since an argument can be made that God would be less merciful to the elect if there was no actualized punishment from which they were delivered.

Now here's the actual passage from Exodus:

15 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen."

Now manifesting something, I take it, is manifesting something to someone. It doesn't seem to be the simple exercise of divine attibutes, it is a matter of making the Hebrews aware that God had the power to deliver them in spite of the opposition of the greatest superpower in the world of the time, the Egyptians. In the same way, we might say that Amare Stoudemire gains glory by dunkin over Duncan. Why? Because people see Amare's greatness in scoring against such a renowned defender.

So if people are reprobated and sent to hell by decree, instead of saved, and this is for God's glory, I take it it is to show the elect that God has the power to inflict everlasting punishment. But surely, the elect, who are in God's presence forever, need no such demonstration. I can see how God might need to be glorified by a demonstration of wrath in the eyes of the stiff-necked Hebrews. It is not as if people in heaven forget every so often that God had the power to damn them, and so have to be reminded by being given an occasional glimpse of the Black Pit.

So I can't make sense of the idea that God reprobates for his own glory. I'm not even saying here that we must reject the idea, but what I am saying is that this analysis doesn't make sense of it. It seems to me that God could acquire this glory in the eyes of the elect in ways that are not nearly so painful to others.

Part of C. S. Lewis's letter to John Beversluis

In the context of discussion "biblical atrocities" C. S. Lewis wrote the following to the John Beversluis.

"The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

William Abraham on C. S. Lewis

The Wrongful Cause Principle

Paul: Here's the trouble that I would like to focus on. It seems to me to be fairly clear, even if we were to grant an compatibilist view of free will, that the following principle is true, which I will call the Wrongful Cause Principle:

WCP: It is wrong to cause someone to do what it is wrong to do.

Even if you can make it out that if an omnipotent being pre-ordained the Holocaust before the foundation of the world, that Hitler can nevertheless be blamed for perpetrating it (after all he didn't do it against his will, he wanted to do it); in particular if the sin involved is so heinous as to deserve everlasting punishment, then an omnipotent being who is also perfectly good would not decree the Holocaust.

I would like to ask if there is any human context in which anyone could deny that this principle is true. Can we just dismiss this principle as "intuitions?" Isn't it an intuition that virtually all of us share, and would employ without hestitation unless one's theology was at stake?

I mentioned the Nazi commandant case where the commandant causes Jews to commit capital crimes and then executes them for it. Paul argued that there is a disanalogy in the sense that the Jews presumably would be acting against their will, while sinners sin willingly. Fine. If compatibilism is true, this would provide a basis for holding the sinners responsible. But there is no law of conservation of responsibility. That consideration has no effect on the question of whether an omnipotent being (I really can't say God here, since what I am saying about this being would disqualify him from being God), if that omnipotent being were to guarantee the occurrence of the Holocaust, would be acting wrongly.

The Christians of Iraq

Sadly, these Christians are suffering more since our invasion than they were under Saddam.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Paul Manata on Calvinism

Paul Manata over at Triablogue is arguing that my objections to Calvinism bear no weight because they appeal to moral intuitions. He says that I begin from intuitions, and the Calvinist begins from Scripture. He is saying that if we're going to argue about Calvinism versus Arminianism or anything else, I should fight like a real man, based on Scripture passages, rather than like a girlie man, employing moral intuitions.

Or rather, I am arguing on the basis of moral intuitions, which are human and fallible, as opposed to God's Holy Word, which is infallible and inerrant.

There are several problems with this construal of the situation. First, even if Scripture is inerrant (and what that amounts to needs to be clarified), exegetes and Bible scholars are not infallible. There is no consensus amongst biblical scholars that the standard Calvinist proof texts really prove Calvinism, or that the Arminian or even universalist proof texts to not support those doctrines.

I think that Calvinist interpretations of passages that teach God's love for all people do violence to the meaning of those texts and essentially trivialize them. Paul no doubt thinks the same of Arminian interpretations of Calvinist proof texts. There isn't going to be any slam dunk here.

But it's when I back away from the exegeses of particular texts and look at what all of this means for God character. In Calvinism is false God's goal is the eternal salvation of every human creature. There is plenty of mystery concerning what God does to achieve that ultimate goal, but that goal is consistently pursued in all his works. "His mercy is over all his works," says the Psalmist, (Ps. 145: 9), something a Calvinist in going to have trouble consistently saying. This makes it possible to explain why some evils exist, others are mysterious, but here at least goodness is a fairly clear idea. The kind of goodness that God instills in me as I conform my life to his image is a reflection of the character of God, especially as revealed in Christ. The picture is morally coherent.

I don't mean that God is obligated to do what we are obligated to do, but rather God's character as a good being must be the kind of character that we are supposed to have. "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus."

But what are we asked to believe if Calvinism is true? We are asked to believe that God decreed the deeds of everyone before the foundation of the world. The Holocaust, the killing fields of Pol Pot, the 9/11 attacks, and the entire content of Dawkins' The God Delusion were all decreed before the foundation of the world. The CD was made in eternity and plays out in time, just as it was intended. The deeds that are sinful are nevertheless deserving of everlasting punishment for the humans who perform them, even though the creatures who perform them cannot do otherwise, given those decrees. Of these sinners, God elects some to everlasting life and the rest he allows to suffer the "just deserts" of their sins, which is, as indicated earlier, eternal suffering in hell. God could have decreed that no one ever sin, or God could have decreed that everyone receive the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but apparently it results in greater glory to himself if he damns, probably, the vast majority of the human race, especially those where the Gospel hasn't reached. Nevetheless, God is a perfectly good being. The acts we perform which merit us eternal punishment if we perform them are the same acts that God Himself ordained before the foundation of the world. Even though performing those acts as humans deserves everlasting punishment, decreeing those same actions before the foundation of the world is simply an exercise in "the potter's freedom."

Paul says he doesn't share my intuitions. Look, given this picture, if you don't have at least notice a prima facie problem with God's conduct from a moral point of view, then you don't need an argument, you need help. It could all be OK, but then I could be a brain in a vat, Hitler could have been a nice guy who had a good reason to do what he did, and Elvis might still be alive.

If I were to have an argument with Jeffrey Dahmer about his, uh er, culinary practices, and I were to say that I found his actions reprehensible, he could say, "I just don't share your intuitions. Of course I suppose I could quote to him out of a book with leather covers that says "Thou shalt not kill," but there are lots of purported holy books out there.

There are, of course, some intuition pumps that can be used here to raise doubts about the moral acceptability of all of this. One picture that is often used is one in which makes it sound like a bunch of sinners just showed up in God's courtroom, all deserving punishment. God punishes some according to their deserts, and then others he saves by his grace through the sacrifice of Christ. What gets left out of the picture is the fact that these people are sinners wholly and completely as a result of God's eternal decree. On my view, which I know not everyone shares, these people are simply not responsible for their actions, because they had no choice, given the past, to do what they did. Even if they can be held responsible, isn't there an "accessory before the fact" in their sins? Think of a Nazi commandant who gets Jews in his concentration camp to commit capital crimes and then executes them for those crimes.

Another intuition pump that Paul uses is the idea that criminals like child molesters deserve to be punished and put away. If this is so horribly wrong, then why should any of us "child molesters" get into heaven through Christ paying the penalty for our sins? It's the Calvinists, in spite of their ardent denials which border on out-and-out subterfuge to me, who make God the author of sin. Paul thinks I have a low view of sin. What??? I have such a high view of sin that I don't think God ever decrees it. I don't think God would decree sin because, also, I have a high view of God.

Paul references a book called "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God." Doesn't that title tell you a lot? God's love for humans is a difficult doctrine? On my view, that's the easy part.

I have a serious problem with any action retributively deserving everlasting punishment, since all sins only to a finite amount of damage. The reply is that they are against an infinite God, but do we give tougher penalties for people who commit crimes against, say, the President? Hell is possible not because someone retributively deserves it on my view, but rather, because someone continues to freely rebel. God can't make someone happy without a submitted will, and God can't guarantee that without making the submission unfree. At least, on my incompatibilist view.

There are some elements in Paul's post that are disturbing. He explicitly says that some people are not our neighbor and we are not obligated to love them. What about all the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek to those who seek to harm you, proying for those who despitefully use you, loving your enemies. What about the Good Samaritan, Jesus' brilliant response to those who would circumscribe the circle of "neighbor" to exclude others. If you can exegete your way around those, you can exegete your way around anything.

The Calvinists at Triablogue had some debate with me over waterboarding a few months back. But since they knew I wasn't a Calvinist, they avoided using their best argument. They could say "Look, we know these terror suspects are Muslims, which means they're probably vessels of wrath headed for the fire anyway. If we can get some information out of them, why not give them a little foretaste of the future?"

(OK that was dirty. I slap my face.)

In confronting issues of theodicy, I have to admit, like any sane, sensible Christian, that a good deal is mysterious. But if Calvinism is false I can see through a glass darkly and maybe see why a good deal of evil exists. If Calvinism is true, then I'm blind as a bat. I admit the logical possibility that it might all be justified, but then it is just possible that Elvis is at the McDonald's nearest my house.

Given the fact that there is no overwhelming biblical case for Calvinism, it seems to me that I am justified in choosing a view that is morally coherent over a view that strikes me as being about as morally incoherent as a position could possibly be.

I think I am going to rest my case here. I am sure there will be some salvo back from Paul and company, but I think I will leave the job of responding to the Calvinists to others.

Arminian exegesis on Romans 9 Part II

An Arminian exegesis of Romans 9

I like this line from this post.

Paul's "great sorrow and unceasing grief" was for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Do you not think that echoes the same attitude of Christ Jesus? Certainly Paul is familiar with Calvinism, is he not? At least, Calvinists believe that he taught Calvinism. If so, then how could Paul have "great sorrow and unceasing grief" in his heart for those whom God has not chosen to save? Those who die in their sin do so by the predetermined counsel and kind intention of God's will. Stop your blubbering, Paul.

Craig's response to Dawkins' Central Argument

Behe defends his mousetrap design argument

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

An incredibly rude response to me

Here's a classic case of internet rudeness. The odd thing is this guy actually thinks I was endorsing these arguments against ethical objectivity, as opposed to just presenting the best arguments I knew about against a position that I believe firmly in and have defended on numerous other posts. The arguments, of course, are based on the works of people like J. L. Mackie and Bertrand Russell. I find it amusing that someone can make fun of my doctorate who needs a course in reading comprehension.

An interview with Paul Copan on the New Atheism

Friday, April 11, 2008

More on Calvinism and Evil

Another redated post from 05.

Some responses in the comments section on my discussion of Calvinism and the problem of evil deserve attention. First of all, Rak suggests that the concept of an OOP being is ambiguous, and that parties on both sides analyze this concept in ways that are designed to get the results they want with respect to the problem of evil. I think it's a little easier to issue these charges in the abstract than to apply them to particular cases. So, since I'm the teacher..uh er...blogger here, I'm going to issue a homework assignment. Take Alvin Plantinga's classic analysis in The Nature of Necessity or God, Freedom and Evil, and show that Plantinga commits this offense.

Second, David says that it is less than clear that a predestined world in which some people are damned is a worse world than the predestined world of Mr. Rogers, where everyone lives a sin-free life and goes to heaven. I'm afraid you lost me on that one. If WMR isn't clearly a better world, then the problem of evil can be instantly eliminated, because every time the atheist recounts for us the virtues of a world that God should have created, the theist can answer that it is not clear that such a world would be really better than this one. Second, God is supposed to love all human creatures, so we have to figure out, now, how creatures God loves end up in hell in a predestinarian world. If I have any moral intuitions at all, it is that a life of eternal bliss beats the heck out of a life of eternal torment, not just because I like it better, but because it is really better. I would just have to ask what the statement "God loves every human creature" means in the context.

Was John 3: 16 mistranslated? Should it really say "God so loved the elect, that he gave his only begotten son, the whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life?" Maybe that's how it will read in the NCV (New Calvinist Version).

Why would God choose a world in which there He risks the possibility of sin, when he could have chosen to just give us compatibilist freedom and gotten the World of Mr. Rogers? I gave at least a possible reason, namely, that all the love that God receives in the WMR is the result of God's guaranteeing that people will love him. In the last analysis, God is just loving himself. At least on Star Trek, Flint, had a problem with that, and I do too.

A further response on Logic Matters

Peter: One straight flush in a poker game could be a fair hand. Three of them in the course of one game suggests that the hand was dealt from the bottom of the deck. Nevetheless, given the priors of a typical philosophical naturalist, I would expect you to respond just as you did here. You say "Look, it's antecedently improbable that a highly functioning moral teacher should also have a God delusion (the delusion that he is God, not the Dawkinsian delusion that God exists). But it's more antecedently improbable that Jesus is God incarnate. So some skeptical hypothesis concerning the life of Jesus is still the best available explanation given my priors. In particular the hypothesis of a delusion with localized effect is perhaps the most plausible explanation available." That's fine. But, last I heard, the problem of the single case wasn't solved and there is no precise objective method for establishing priors. (The Bayesian theory I imbibed in grad school was thoroughly subjectivist about prior probabilities: think Howson and Urbach). You are claiming not just that someone can resist the conclusion of the argument, but that the argument is laughably fallacious. If I am right, a fallacious argument ought to persuade no one. To show that it ought to persuade no one, you would need to show that no who doesn't already accept the conclusion should accept it given the argument. Have you shown this? I should point out that C. S. Lewis presents this argument after having argued for moral theism. In order to reach the conclusion you want, you would have to show that someone who is either a theist or someone who things theism at least likely to be true, someone who is impressed by the character of Jesus in other respects, someone who may even think, like the ancient Jews, that God has performed miracles. Should someone with priors much more friendly to Christianity than yourself nevetheless remain unpersuaded? Ex hypothesi, you concede that the probability, given that Jesus is not God, that someone should arise who claims to be God, and is a high-functioning moral teacher, is low. If Christian theism true, the likelihood that Christ would claim to be good is pretty darn high. So it looks like the LLL argument provides at least some confirmation for theism even if you, quite reasonably, resist the conclusion of the argument.

Why Calvinists Can't Solve The Problem of Evil

I'm going to redate the old post, but I'm fixing the argument from evil to leave out the stuff about the best of all possible worlds.

The title here suggests that Arminians (or maybe universalists) can solve the problem of evil, and maybe that's something I don't want to imply. However, I am going to argue that while the theist has some hope of providing a rebuttal to the argument from evil if Calvinism is false, the theist who is as Calvinist is thoroughly embarrassed in the face of the atheist argument.

Let's look at the atheist argument from evil. The argument goes as follows:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil.
3. But there is unnecessary evil.
4. Therefore God does not exist.

Now a lot of responses to the problem of evil employ two themes. One of those themes is that many evils in the world are not caused by God, but are the result of God's allowing creatures to act freely. If God makes us free to commit murder or not to commit murder, then God cannot guarantee that we not commit murder. Second, some things that seem evil from a temporal, present-day perspective may not be evils from an eternal perspective. So, for example, it may seem to me to be an evil that I have a certain health problem, but from God may see that there are elements of character that will improve within me if I suffer from this health problem.

The problem with Calvinism is that on the Calvinistic view God sovereignly determines the outcome of every action. And there are situations which persevere into eternity which very clearly could have been better. In particular, "Smith's going to hell" is a situation which goes preseveres into eternity and is not going to get better.

Consider what philosopher Douglas Jesseph calls "The World of Mr. Rogers."
In the world of Mr. Rogers, it's all a big happy neighborhood and everyone does what is right, and then go to heaven when they die. This world is obviously a better world than this one. Just ask anyone who has gone to hell and see if they wouldn't prefer the World of Mr. Rogers.

Do creatures in the World of Mr. Rogers act freely? If you accept the Compatibilist theory of Free Will, then they do. The Compatibilist points out that there is a difference between doing what you want to do, and doing what you don't want to do. You act unfreely if you are dragged in chains back to your jail cell. You act freely if you are listening to your favorite CD, playing your favorite game, watching your favorite movie, etc. When your actions and your desires match up, you are acting freely. If your actions and desires don't match, then you aren't.

Now suppose you have the desires that you are caused to have. God arranges it so that you always want to do the right thing. God controls your desires and then gives you the freedom, that is the power, to act out those desires.

Given this theory of free will, it is easy to see that God could still give us free will and nevertheless still be able to create the World of Mr. Rogers, where no one sins and no one goes to hell. If Calvinism is true, then that is exactly the kind of free will that God has granted us. Calvinists will often say that God has every right to punish us for our sins because, after all, it is not the case that we wanted to do the right thing and were forced against our will to do the wrong thing. Rather, we did what we wanted to do, even though we were predestined to do it.

Is the World of Mr. Rogers boring? Well, if it's boring, then heaven will be boring too, because heaven is supposed to be a sin-free zone.

The simple fact is that if Calvinism is true, then God could have created the World of Mr. Rogers, but sovereignly chose not to. Why?

At this point it is possible to now appeal to human limitations, either limitations in human knowledge or in human goodness. Even though we can't see that this world is better than the WMR, it really is better, even though some people are damned in this world and no one is damned in WMR.
I think these arguments from the limits of our knowledge have more force where the final outcome is unknown or inadequately understood. We know the final outcome in both worlds. Everyone is happy in the WMR and everyone gets saved. Many people suffer in our world and some are lost.

Another way of replying is to present a version of Paul's rebuttal from the Book of Romans, "Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?" Now if this is a version of the argument from the limitations of our knowledge, which I think it is, then it has some value, but not on a Calvinistic scenario. If however, it is a way of simply dismissing the argument from evil, it is a transparently question-begging argument. The AfE questions whether there is a God, that is, a being omnisicent, omnipotent, and perfectly good, to answer back to. We cannot assume that such a being exists in order to eliminate the question as to whether or not an OOP being exists.

But why would God want to give us any kind of free will other than the kind of free will that the compatibilist (and the Calvinist) is prepared to admit? The incompatiblist holds that human beings have the kind of freedom that is incompatible with our acting from a determining cause. If we sin, we could have done otherwise under the actual circumstances.

Consider a Star Trek I once saw. There was a man, who in the show was named Flint, who was born several thousand years BC, whose body was able to regenerate whenever it was damaged, granting him an virtually endless life. What that meant was that, over and over again, he saw his companions and wives die. He ended up on a planet in outer space where he decided to build the perfect companion, an android named Rayna. Rayna could converse with him on any subject imaginable, could be physically affectionate, but there was one problem. Its "love" for Flint was fully and completely determined by Flint's programming, and therefore was deficient as love. So Flint brought the Enterprise and Captain Kirk to the planet so that he could be a rival for Rayna's affections. (Captain Kirk was, in more ways than one, modeled after President John F. Kennedy--JTK, JFK. Say no more.) Anyway, since Rayna was an android, Rayna couldn't choose freely, and so fell over and became deactivated.

If God is love, then isn't there something deficient about love that is fully and completely determined by the one who recevies the love? If this is the case, then there is a good reason why a loving God might choose to give us incompatiblist freedom, even if this freedom results in sin and perhaps even eternal separation from God for some persons.

A response of mine on Logic Matters on the Trilemma

These are some comments of mine from the Logic Matters blog.

The trilemma seems to be pointing to two sets of facts or, at least apparent facts. On the one hand we have the moral genius of Jesus, the kind of moral genius that produces things like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and on the other hand we have the claim, implicit and explicit through the Gospels, to be God. The discussion thus far has been presupposing that both of these set of facts are real facts, but want to say that they are psychologically compossible in Jesus. I was trying to show with my student story that we have good reason to suppose that it is hard to believe that this combination could exist in the real world, and that we would certainly not expect someone who was deluded into believing oneself to be God could even be good and wise enough to be a fair grader and a good classroom teacher, much less a moral genius of the caliber of Jesus. So I was trying to support your side of this discussion, Mike. If you accept the "local delusion" theory suggested by Smith here and by John Beversluis in his revised book, then the students should be reassured by the dean. But the dean's reply doesn't seem reassuring to me at all. Of course here probabilities have to enter the picture--if you have priors according to which any naturalistic account is preferable to any supernaturalist account, then of course the LLL argument isn't going to carry any weight. Or you can say that the facts I alluded to above are only apparent facts but not facts. But what seems to me to be implausible is to accept these two sets of facts as facts and somehow fail to see a serious dissonance that requires some explaining, to say the least. The argument is not bad, or stupid, or idiotic, in my view. The existence of possible alternatives doesn't mean that those alternatives are plausible.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Calvinism and Evil

One of my earliest posts was one entitled "Why Calvinists Can't Solve the
Problem of Evil" Steve Hays on Triablogue responded to it,

SH: Let's return to his syllogism:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil, that is, an evil
that the world would be better off without. As Leibniz would say, if there
is a God, then this is the best of all possible worlds.
3. But there is unnecessary evil. This is clearly not the best of all possible
4. Therefore God does not exist.

The weak link is #2.

1.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is a best possible world,
why is God obligated to create the best possible world?

The choice between better and best is not equivalent to a choice between
good and evil. A second-best possible world could still be a world without
any unnecessary evil. Indeed, it could be a world without any evil at all.
Or does Reppert deny the possibility of alternative goods? Can?t there be
more than one good state of affairs?

VR: I didn't necessarily support this version of the argument, and since I?m
a theist I of course don?t think its conclusion is true. Perhaps Leibnizian
creative requirements are excessive. What we are talking about here, though,
are gratuitous damnations. We are talking about people suffering an eternity
of torment and separation from God. I take it the Calvinist is claiming that
God could have given everyone free will (in the compatibilist sense) and
then caused everyone to do what is necessary to receive saving grace. If
there was a reason for God not to make earth the World of Mr. Rogers, surely
God should make eternity the world of Mr. Rogers.

SH: 2.That brings me to the next point: why assume there is a best possible world?
It's like asking if a Gothic cathedral is better than a Byzantine basilica.
Now, you can say that one Gothic church is better than another, or that one
basilica is better than another.

But one type of architecture may have distinctive esthetic values which cannot
be replicated in another type of architecture.

VR: Maybe there isn't a best of all possible worlds. Maybe God created all the
good worlds. The question is, is a world in which someone is damned by decree
before the foundation of the world a good world?

SH: Is the common good the greatest good? What if there is no greatest good for
the greatest number? What if there's a tradeoff between a greater good for
a lesser number, and a lesser good for a greater number?

Reppert says: "And there are situations which persevere into eternity which
very clearly could have been better. In particular, "Smith's going to hell"
is a situation which goes preseveres into eternity and is not going to get

No doubt the situation could have been better for Smith. But is what is good
for Smith equivalent to the summum bonum?

What is good for Smith is good also for those who love Smith. And someone
who is being perfected in love is going to love Smith. The more we love our
neighbor as ourselves, the more we find the eternal damnation of our neighbors

I realize that this is in large part Tom Talbott's argument for universalism.
The only conceivable escape from it is the argument that Smith has chosen
self over God, and that God could have done nothing to prevent Smith from
continuing in that choice without violating Smith's freedom. However, that?s
an Arminian theodicy of damnation, not a Calvinist one.

SH: What if a greater good for Smith entails a lesser good for Baker, Brown,
and Jones?

How could it? Baker, Brown and Jones all love Smith, since they are in God?s
community of love.

SH: 3.In addition, what if greater goods are second-order goods, contingent on
the evil abuse of first-order goods?

I don't see any possible second-order good arising from a disobedience that
persists for an eternity.

SH: 4.In fact, don't we find this very theodicy implicit in the pages of Scripture?
To take a few examples:

It was not that this [blind] man sinned, or his parents, but that the works
of God might be displayed in him? (Jn 9:3).

Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this word, that those who do not see
may see, and those who see may become blind?" (Jn 9:39).

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace
abounded all the more? (Rom 5:20).

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ?For this very purposes I have raised
you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed
in all the earth'? (Rom 9:17).

What if God, desiring to make known his power, has endured with much patience
vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches
of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory??
(Rom 9:22-23).

But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by
faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe? (Gal 3:22).

None of these involve eternal disobedience. In one passage at the end of
the famous Romans 9-11 section, Paul says:

For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

So that's the point of all the shutting up in disobedience, the hardening
of hearts, the vessels of wrath. This is all aimed at having mercy upon all.
And no, let's not play any Calvinist word games about what all means.

SH: 5.As to his final paragraph, there are a couple of problems:

i) As a matter of human experience, is love always a choice? Isn't it natural
for parents to love their children, and children to love their parents? As
a rule, isn't this a spontaneous and involuntary affection for our own?

But is a love that is guaranteed by the actions of the one being loved real
love, or puppetry?

ii) Reppert begs the question of whether it's even possible for God to confer
libertarian freedom on his creatures. There are some things God cannot do
without ceasing to be God.

Now look who's putting limits on the power of God.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Princeton Seminary Student's Defense of Universalism

HT: Ed Babinski.

Roger Peck on Design Arguments for God

Reply to the Calvinists

In the course of our previous discussion on Calvinism, there are several lines of argument that need attention. I think the Calvinists have taken somewhat divergent lines in defending their position. Bnonn seems inclined to be critical of my claim the conception of goodness that we apply to God needs to be continuous with the concept that we apply to human beings. He seems, much more that Paul, to want to push in the general direction of theological voluntarism. He maintains that while we do, and must come to Christ and to Scripture with a conception of what goodness is, we must be prepared to allow our conception of goodness to be corrected by Scripture. There are two problems with his suggestion.
First, while I admit that Scripture can correct my conception of goodness, accepting reprobation would, on my view, not be a correction, but an out and out reversal, of what goodness seems to me to be. If Hitler was wrong to send people to Auschwitz, could it be OK for God to send people to an everlasting Auschwitz, when he could have chosen eternal bliss for them?
Second, it’s the very influence of Scripture on my character that makes Calvinism a problem. Scripture teaches that I should love my neighbor as myself and undermines the idea, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that there are people outside the pale of being my neighbor. If I think about the people whom I come the closest to loving as I do myself, I don’t find that there are two good options, either an eternal bliss in relation to God, or eternal justified punishment forever and ever separated from God. The more I love someone, the less acceptable the second option is.
Finally, the summum bonum that God pursues in saving and damning is supposed to be his own glory. How in the world does damning someone eternally glorify God. How does taking voices out of the heavenly choir glorify God? Sending people to hell by a decree before the foundation of the world deprives God of glory.
Paul Manata does not think that Calvinism relies on theological voluntarism, and does therefore think that God’s goodness, even on a Calvinistic view, is in some way commensurable with goodness as human beings ordinarily understand it. He claims Sudduth blows the idea that Calvin is a theological voluntarist. He quotes a passage with suggests otherwise, but I wonder how he would interpret the following statement form the Institutes

The will of God is the highest rule of justice, so that what He wills must be considered just…for this very reason, because he wills it. (Institutes, vol ii, chap 3, trans. John Allen. Philadephia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, p. 23) quoted in John Beversluis’ C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion p. 230.

Now, as I see it not much turns on whether Calvin was a voluntarist (or, to use Beversluis’ terminology, and Ockhamist) or not. I suspect that a textual case could be made on both sides of the issue. I am more interested in Manata’s suggesting that, for the most part, you can use many of the same defensive responses to the problem of evil if you are a Calvinist. Of course you can’t use the free will defense, but there are other considerations used by people like Plantinga, Alston, Adams, etc, that a Calvinst can still use.

In particular, most responses to the problem of evil make use of some sort of argument from human epistemic limitations. In response to, say, Loftus’ argument that a good God would have given us wings, theists point out that while this looks like an improvement to someone like Loftus, it is fairly easy to see that if we were to consider all the effects of giving us wings, it might not be an improvement.

In many cases, we find that some things that seem to be gratuitously evil turn out to have good sides we couldn’t see. The wicked act of selling Joseph to the slavers resulted, after a long chain of events, in Jacob’s family being able to settle in Egypt and to avoid the ill effects of the famine. So if something appears evil, it may not be because

1) We don’t see all the causes and effects that will result for this so-called evil.
2) We don’t see the long-term consequences of the evil.
3) We don’t see the eternal consequences of the evil.
4) We don’t see the possible bad consequences of eliminating the evil.

Now if someone went to hell as a result of divine decree who could have been saved, and I say that isn’t something a good God could permit, which one of these mistakes could I be making? It’s a final result for someone’s soul. We see all the causes and effects, at least so far is this particular life is concerned. The long-term consequences are known, even the eternal consequences are known, and the alternative possibility of God’s saving that person is also known. So my error can’t be traced to any of these four sources. So where did I go wrong if I thought this would be wrong for God to do, but it really isn’t? It must be that my conception of goodness is dead wrong. That’s all that’s left.

Reply to Solon

Respectfully, if you want to speak on this topic you need to go study philosophy seriously, and not in the wasteland of the typical Anglo-Saxon phil. department in the US. Christian belief is centred on the notion of a true world of being, apart from the false world of becoming. I.e., Christianity condemns the bodies we know, this world we know, as false and meaningless.

This strikes me as a misrepresentation. The world is, of course, God's creation according to Christianity. We're Christians, not Gnostics.

Christianity has placed all value in another world for which it has no evidence whatsoever, but in which you must have faith.

Again, a misrepresentation. Christians offer evidence on behalf of their beliefs. Or very often do. I'm not a fideist. Now it may turn out that evidence is lacking, but you aren't entitled to just assume this.

Your only value is that you partake in it by the mystery of the "soul." The suspicion arises, however, that this "other" world does not exist, and that it is thus, as the opposite of this world, the opposite of life, i.e., death, nothingness. Ultimate judgments are never true but only useful semiotically, revealing of the judgment creators.

If true, this would include your own comments. You're in no better or worse shape than the Christians you attack. Your own ultimate judgment is no more true than mine on your own view!

Christianity's genealogy suggests it's judgments arose out of a hatred of life, by a people that suffered from life. Is Christianity an expression of revenge upon life? Hence a form of illness?

Now you are claiming to make true judgments about what is ill and what is healthy. If there's no truth, you can't do that.