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.


Dave said...

Well, it seems to me that if the Calvinistic line of defense does instantly eliminate the problem of evil, then that makes the defense a good one.

However, on to your point, I think there is much more involved in determining what makes this the best possible world, or even a good choice, than the quantity of suffering and evil. One could rattle a list of these other things off, but that would not really answer the problem because then, in order to answer the atheist, one would have to show that the current world really is the one ideally suited to attaining those ends.

Furthermore, even the non-Calvinist has to admit that there are some good ends which are so valuable that a great deal of suffering and evil can be permitted in order to for those ends to be attained. The non-Calvinist lists his version of free will as one of those goods. So, clearly even for the non-Calvinist the present world is in some sense better than Mr. Rogers' world despite the horrendous evil and misery in it.

As for the love of God seeming to rule out damnation, the larger Augustinian tradition to which Calvin belonged recognized that God's love does not extend to everything in the same way, even among men (See the Summa Theologica, Part 1, Article 20, Question 3). Furthermore, his love for creatures does not overrule other considerations. Again, even the non-Calvinist again must admit that though God loves the sinner, he does not love him to the point that he will save him despite his free choices, which he could well do. The Calvinist also will answer that, though God loves all men to some extent, for a set of reasons which we barely understand he permits them to sin and to suffer. Within that permission, he loves them to the greatest extent possible, but some he loves more than others.

Ultimately, there is no answer to the problem of evil if the atheist will insist that a thorough explanation and justification of God's choices must be made. The more cautious approach is to argue deductively, as Leibniz did in his monumental Theodicy, that from God's goodness, wisdom, and power we infer that this is the best of all possible worlds, even if we don't know how.



Jason said...

Heh. I really liked the NCV John 3:16 rewrite. The better translation for 'kosmos', btw, would be 'all creation'.

I think David has a good reply, though--even though I'm certainly not a Calvinist. If (per specs {g}) WMR is 'compatablist', then by Victor's own claim for this the people would in fact be loving God freely--it _wouldn't_ just be God loving Himself (as valid as that problem would otherwise be), because the people wouldn't be puppets. My problems with the WMR go a somewhat different direction.

I think part of Rak's criticism (from the previous entry) could be rephrased as such: consideration of this question requires that we've already established, or at least are presupposing (on what grounds?), the answers to a whole bunch of other questions--whether we're atheists, Christians, or whatever.

And that's the responsibility of us theists. As C.S. Lewis points out, the theistic problem of pain (and evil) only becomes a problem once theism is being claimed, or at least proposed. An atheist can take shots at various theistic rows of ducks, but it's _our_ job to set those ducks up in the first place. If we do a crappy preliminary job of setting up the ducks, then the atheist _should_ win in a fair dialectic toward truth.

The same goes if we're just throwing up various claims and seeing what sticks, without any clear idea how they're supposed to be fitting together in the first place. For instance: what is the point of positing a WMR where people live a sin-free life _AND THEN DIE_, thus 'going to heaven'? Why isn't it "heaven" already? Why do they have to die? What are they dying of?

I don't think a WMR, as posited (even fixing the death problem), is a clearly better world, either. But then, I don't think that pleasure and pain are the same thing as good and evil.

For instance, an inflicted pleasure impelling someone to do something, is still an inflicted _suffering_.

Would I enjoy _that_ suffering more than the actual world? Sure; I can hardly deny it, given the terms of the position. I have to admit, I might enjoy being able to inflict that suffering to make someone do something, even more than I would enjoy receiving it--sadism and masochism aren't strictly about infliction of pain. But the whole focus is still on the exercise of power, even in the given WMR--a problem endemic throughout most Christian theologies, even though we of all people are supposed to know better.

This _especially_ includes the Calvinist. Calvinism is still primarily about the exercise of power. It's still basically saying that what final, foundational reality _really_ is about, is power; because though God may not stop doing _something_ to people, He does (supposedly) stop doing love, or does love less, or never extends love at all, or never extends _that_ sort of love at all--in any case, the claim comes down to God's love being less than a primary and eternal action. It's a hobby He took up after (or during) creation. To which I say, ptooey. {g}

But, to be fair to sceptics (such as atheists), I'm saying ptooey based on an acceptance (and hopefully an understanding) of loads of doctrines which I shouldn't just be plopping onto the playing field (tacitly or otherwise) by mere assertion; and certainly not in disconnection from each other.

(So, in the face of mounting demands on my time elsewhere {wry s}, I've started my own journal on the subject. A Progressive Synthetic Metaphysic It's a kind of self-editing exercise. {shrug})

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave said...

I should add as a personal note before going on to make any additional comments that, as someone who struggles mightily with faith issues, I tend to think that the Calvinistic/Augustinian system is more biblically and rationally rooted than opposing systems, but that does not mean that I am "in love" with the system. It has serious problems, and I do not wish to minimize those at all.

Jason, you commented that Calvinism is primarily about power. Having seen the way some Calvinists handle their theology, I would say that your view is sometimes correct. Many Calvinists treat God's sovereignty as if it were His only attribute, or the only one which really mattered.

A more balanced view, one which I think most Calvinists and Augustinians would take, is that God's motive in creating the world is to manifest His Glory, which includes a number of attributes besides His love, such as justice, wisdom, and, yes, power.

That does mean that love is not the sole, or even necessarily the primary motivation for the creation of the universe. It does not mean, however, that it is a hobby. It is supposed to be serious business, but its part of a balancing act.

BTW to everyone, please forgive me if I am making too many comments or if the comments I make are long-winded. I'm new to "blogging" and don't know the etiquette.

Jason said...


Well, some of us _do_ make our hobbies serious business. (Myself included. {g})

Any devil, however, could make 'manifesting his own attributes' his primary concern. Come to think of it, that's _exactly_ what they do.

It's still a power enactment, where the traits being enacted are _not_ to be identified with the power itself. The power is _not_ love, or even justice (much less both.) These things, at best, are still being done (in a balance of oppositions or otherwise) for the sake of exercising power.

Power enacted, for power's sake.

But the Son, on the cross, shows us the Father--and shows us that whatever He does and whatever He allows (some of which can be frightening and harsh), isn't done for the sake of God's own self-importance, but for love even to His enemies.

Jason said...

{wry g} I should probably add, that I am actually in large agreement with Augustine and Calvin. I am not satisfied with their schools of thought, however, precisely because I _do_ largely agree with them elsewhere.

Dave said...

Hi again Jason,

The difference between a devil and a deity manifesting attributes is not in the fact that they wish to manifest them, but in the attributes manifested.

As for love and justice being exercised for the sake of power, I do not think that this follows from any Calvinist or Augustinian theology. I do think that the classical concept of God entails that His love and justice are powerful attributes. God is understood as a powerful being, so naturally his attributes will be exercised in that fashion.

Finally, though we are straying off topic, I think your understanding of the relationship between the Son and the Father in scripture is incomplete. Jesus himself asked the Father to glorify his name (John 12:28), to which the Father responded that he had and will do so again. Isaiah 43:7 and 48:9-11 further teach that God created man for his glory and is patient with man for the same reason. Paul also lays this down as a motivation for men when he says that whatever we do should be for the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).

Even the love God shows to man is done ultimately for the sake of his glory, not just or ultimately for man.



Jason said...

Hi again, David!

Actually, I agree that the difference between a devil and Deity is in the attributes manifested. If the 'glory' of God is tacitly or explicitly an egotism, though, then qualitatively the significant difference between manifested attributes is mere power-level.

This is why the transpersonal unity of God is such an important doctrine. The Father and Son and Holy Spirit are, each as a Person, acting for the sake of the other Persons; and (insofar as the Father and Son go anyway) this action is itself fundamental to the existence of God as well as of everything else in reality. If God wasn't self-begetting and being self-begotten, He wouldn't exist, and neither would anything else--including devils. Yet Who are being begetting and begotten are distinct Persons, as well as being a (singular) unity of Deity. (The Spirit's existence in procession, though also eternal and one in the unity, doesn't seem to be God's self-generation in action; otherwise He would be begotten, not proceeding, and there would be no distinction between the 3rd and 2nd Persons.)

Everything is done for each; none of the Persons are doing anything for the sake of themselves per se.

_This_ is the love and the justice which are the foundation of the world, upon which all realities (whether God Himself or not-God entities) are based. This is why God Incarnate comes not to be served, but to serve: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are already and eternally Persons serving other Persons.

Granted, this love and justice are powerful; but the power is itself based on the love and the justice: if the Persons were not eternally loving and being fair to each other, in their interPersonal relationship, God's own existence would cease--and so consequently would His power.

This is the glory of God, which He continually does, including in relationship to, for, and with His creation--including us human persons.

Or anyway, this is what I'm claiming. {s} Which is why I am careful _not_ to imply that the love and justice of God are _only_ powerful attributes, which He exhibits powerfully because (by implication) His primary attribute is power. God doesn't do powerful things for the sake of exercising power; nor are His attributes (I prefer the word 'characteristics') merely static facts about Himself.

This makes a significant difference in how we interpret what it means, that He does things for the sake of His glory, or for His name (as Jewish and Christian prophets each have rightly told us.) It isn't for the sake of His own self-importance, but for love--even to His enemies.

Obviously you're perceiving a difference here, between what I am saying and the Augustinian/Calvinistic line of theologies. The difference, apparently, is that I am saying God's power depends on persons loving persons (thus God's power also depends on His loving, in all Three Persons, us created persons, even when we are His enemies); whereas this other line of theology is saying that persons loving other persons (including God's love for us) depends on God's power.

Which is basically what I said before, that they were saying. {g} They're saying power, the ability to sheerly cause effects, is the most foundationally important reality; with love and justice etc., even God's, depending on this sheer power.

Not coincidentally, their line of theology tends to be accompanied by claims of privative aseity; whereas I claim positive aseity. But that's another long discussion. {g}

(This is all, btw, completely aside from the question of which strand of theology is actually more correct as to facts. That question should really be settled first; but there are definite and far-reaching consequences to settling it one way or the other...)

Robert Ivy said...

I certainly won't comment on the entirety of this debate, but I would just like to note that the interpretation of John 3:16 that is often used against Calvinist is misplaced.

Simply consider the logic of the statement, "for God so loved the world". The thrust of this statement is clearly to emphasize God's love. There are, then, two options for understanding the relationship between "God" and "the world".

One is the option that Dr. Reppert and other Arminians advocate. Namely, that the enormity of God's love is illustrated through God, who is one, loving the world, which is many. Thus, "For God so loved the world" is loosely translatable to, "God's love is so great that he loves every person in the world." The greatness of God's love, in other words, is drawn out through the contrast of the one and the many.

The other option is the Calvinist option. They understand the contrast between "God" and "the world" to be a contrast between God, who is good and the world, which is wicked. Thus, the enormity of God's love is shown through the fact that, in his moral perfection, God loves that which is desperately wicked.

I think the second option (the Calvinist one) makes better sense of the logic of the text. It does not seem amazing to me at all that God would love many people. First, because God is infinite therefore the number of objects loved makes no difference to God. (Do I not fill heaven and earth? Declares the Lord. Jer 23:24) Second, loving anything is quite easy so long as what is loved is agreeable to you. If all the earth were morally perfect, it would be nothing for God to love the whole world. (For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Matt 5:46)

Thus, I think the statement, "For God so loved the world" clearly indicates that the greatness of God's love is seen through his decision to love what is wicked, not his decision to love a great many people (although He certainly does that too).

Sorry my comment got long, hope it helps the discussion somewhat.


normajean said...

Just venting-sorrrrry!

Top 5 ways Calvinists “Win” Debates

5. Insist that both Jesus and Paul were Calvinists.

4. Pretend that the genetic fallacy is not a fallacy at all, but rather a valid, sound, deductive argument. (This is usually done in reference to the Doctrine of Middle Knowledge with Luis de Molina playing the part of the Catholic wanting to “get around” Scripture.

3. Point out that any position different than theirs is by definition un-Biblical, regardless of the content.

2. Point out that any position different than theirs is by definition “philosophy” and not Biblical, regardless of the content.

1. Point out that any position different than theirs is only different because the poor brother didn’t do any exegesis, and if he did, he did it wrongly.

Taken from an unnamed felloh online.

Unfortunately this is fairly accurate!

Ilíon said...

So, are you saying that the typical internet Calvinist is sort of like the baptized version of the typical internet atheist?

normajean said...

pert much!

Ilíon said...

Well, at least the Calvinists are baptized.

I mean, as important as it is to hold correct belief, and as important as it is to not hold/assert beliefs which cannot be borne by the evidence and reason, the fact remains that Christianity is not gnostic. That is, it is not our act and/or state of holding all and only correct beliefs which saves us (even the demons believe in God) -- it is not *we* who save ourselves -- but rather Christ who saves us, if we but trust in his promise.

Of course, on the interpersonal-level in the here-and-now, knowing the above truth has limited efficacy in helping one deal with persons who cannot (or will not) to see and then correct the self-contradiction(s) in their positions and arguments.

normajean said...

Well said, illion! I may have to borrow your verbiage. Peace

Can't we all just get along?

thechristiancynic said...

Robert, it's not at all clear to me that the two options you've presented are mutually exclusive (for instance, why does the first reading seem to presume that people aren't hard to love?). That aside, your statement isn't much of a comment on Dr. Reppert's initial complaint, which is that "the world" is something larger than just "the people God chooses to save." Additionally, your point about God loving that which is wicked supports the statement: certainly "the world" shouldn't just be a stand-in for "those wicked people who God chose to save anyway" since all men (under Calvinism) are utterly wicked.

Moreover, the ease of God to love everyone shouldn't surprise us in some regards, but that's not the point: To focus only on the first phrase is to forget that Jesus also is mentioning the degree to which God loved the world (a statement of totality: kosmos, as previously mentioned).

Robert Ivy said...

Hi Christiancynic,

Thanks for the comment. Your words were helpful and I shall certainly take them into consideration.