Monday, July 07, 2008

Plantinga's totally depraved grandmother

This is an excerpt from Plantinga's essay, "A Christian Life Partly Lived," from Kelly Clark ed. Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers.

What was preached was, of course, historic Calvinism. When I was eight or nine I began to understand and think seroiusly about the so-called five points of Calvinism enshrined in the TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. I remember wondering in particular about total depravity. I do indeed subscribe to that doctrine, which, as I understand it, quite properly points out that for most or all of us, every important area of our lives is distorted and compromised by sin. When I first began to think about it, however, I took it to mean that everyone was completely wicked, wholly bad, no better than a Hitler or a Judas. That seemed to me a bit confusing and hard to credit; was my grandmother (in fact, a very saintly woman) really completely wicked? Was there nothing good about her at all. That seemed a bit too much. True, I had heard her say "Shit" a couple of times: once when someone came stomping into the kitchen, and one when I threw a string of fire-crackers into the fifty-gallon drum in which she was curing dried beef (they began exploding in rapid-fire succession just as she came to look into the drum). But what sthat really enough to make her a moral monster, particularly when so much about her pointed in the opposite direction?

See also this discussion in on John DePoe's blog.

35 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Does total depravity - the view that all of our faculties have been corrupted by sin - act as a defeater for the belief that our faculties are reliable?

Jason said...

Depends on how hard someone pushes it. The soft version is really no different from common-sense self-criticism (my faculties aren't _perfectly_ reliable--I can make mistakes).

There's a lot more to it than that, of course.

Mike D said...

There are different views about how total "total depravity" is. The more responsible explanation clarifies that a person is not as bad as he could be, only that every facet of his "nature" is tainted or diminished. Most affirm that goodness still resides in each part of the person's nature.

The aspects of our "nature" affected is primarily our faculty to relate to God. This is compared to physical sight. Jesus alluded to spiritual blindness and deafness and linked his physical healing to the spirutal meaning of these concepts. He spoke to a need to restore spiritual faculties illustrated by physical healing.

In terms of intellectual faculties that you seem to reference, there is a Pauline description of limited mental faculties as a result of rejecting God (Romans 1:21). However, this seems to focus again on the ability to sense and understand spiritual concepts. Paul also describes the hardening of the conscience that would limit our ability to sense right and wrong. In this sense, the faculty of determining right and wrong based solely on personal conscience would not be reliable.

Regardless of the impact on the mind and conscience, I don't think too many theologians would argue that the ability to think, reason, see, hear, or analyze is directly related to depravity. There are too many other limiters to those functions. Some may argue for at least an indirect affect. Most would hold that depravity limits a persons' ability to understand spiritual realities.

Concepts such as regeneration, illumination, and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit describe the processes that counter depravity. Much of the Calvinist/Arminian debate centers on whether or not these processes are generally available or limited to the "chosen".

Jason said...

Good comments!

The general thrust of NT theology (including Pauline), also stresses that the Spirit continues to try to break through the hardness of our conscience, and that a foothold is always retained even in the 'muddiest' soul. We aren't left without at least a little light to see and walk by--though that light may seem to us as fire.

I mention this in order to avoid a subtle and somewhat technical heresy, easy to accidentally walk into: the notion that we _can_ do reasoning, moral or otherwise, _on our own_--based solely on our personal conscience, etc. In point of fact we can't; to claim otherwise would be to tacitly claim something tantamount to cosmological dualism: that we can in fact be primarily dependent on something other than God.

Theologians often present that notion (of God continuing to send us light to walk by, however depraved we become) for purposes of establishing blame; and it's true that when we sin we thus abuse the grace of God. But it's also a truth regarding our only hope: God doesn't abandon us, however much we may attempt to abandon Him, and however much He may let the results of our attempts play out in our lives. (Paul nicely balances this in chp 2 of his epistle to the Romans.)

Jason said...

I should add an explanatory note, before I'm misunderstood:

I distinguish between the _sin_ of heresy, and merely _technical_ heresy.

I could enact the first by 'going my own way' (the phrase from which we derive the term) even if I was _using_ (note the verb there) pure orthodoxy in the process. It's a willing disregard or (attempted) subjugation of truth, which can only be for my own personal convenience; and so is as much a sin as any other time I may be sinning.

The obvious example would be for me to make disturbing claims against perceived truth for the purpose of promoting myself (I'm tempted here to name prominent authors as examples {grimace}, but I'll stick to my own self-criticism {g!}--since this _is_ something I'm vulnerable to.) A less obvious but no less pertinent example would be for me to trek out to a village on the lower slopes of the Himalayas and teach completely accurate doctrine there _for the purpose of promoting myself_. (Though one hardly needs to go _that_ far... {wry g}) Basically I would be using orthodoxy as a kind of magic to gain power over people. That's still the _sin_ of heresy.

And that _wasn't_ what I was talking about, in my previous comment. {s!}


Merely technical heresy is simply an accident. It still should be corrected, of course, once perceived, but it isn't an ethical transgression.

That sort of thing happens all the time; and it's important that I distinguish between the two. In Jeff Lowder's notes (reproduced by Victor in that earlier macropost) of the WLC/KP debate, for instance, WLC (by form of the report at least) jumps rather solidly onto one heresy, and maybe two, while trying to reply to charges of "atrocity".

The first, and more obvious one, is the Biggest Might Maketh Him Right 'justification' he provides: God doesn't commit atrocities, because whatever He does must be ethically right, because... well... because He's the Creator and so _therefore_, having the _power_ to do one thing He has just as much _power_ to do another. Therefore, since He has the power to do the other, it isn't an atrocity if He does it.

That (ironically) is precisely the Ockhamism I recently saw him being defended _against_ propounding, in earlier comments to earlier posts of Victor's. At the very least it disregards the nature of the Trinity; and in principle it is indistinguishable from the 'morality is really fundamentally a-moral but still really moral' theories of atheists. (Again, this might be a result of over-compression in Jeff's notes; but I suspect not. It's a sadly common move.)

The second, less obvious, instance happens when WLC asserts that Jesus wouldn't do "atrocities" (such as the Church might do). WLC might have simply meant that Jesus, as God, Hath The Biggest Might and so of course whatever He does won't be an "atrocity"--that's the result if WLC keeps to a commonality of substance.

The report doesn't read like that, though; it looks like WLC is agreeing that what is atrocious for the Church to do would also be atrocious for Jesus to do, _if_ He did such things, _but_ He doesn't and wouldn't do them. (Thus, for _this_ reason, WLC has no intention of defending Church atrocities--other than demanding that the burden of proof of establishing that the Church does do atrocities, or that the examples KP gave _are_ atrocities, is on KP!)

And that could only mean, by implication, that WLC has divided the substance of the Persons (not merely distinguished the Persons): Jesus wouldn't and doesn't do the sort of things that (WLC implicitly admits) God does do (which for God aren't atrocities because He's the Biggest Power.)

But again, he might not have meant that. He might have only meant that of course Jesus doesn't do atrocities, because (as God) Jesus has the Biggest Power, so whatever He does is therefore justified.


So, at least one, possibly two, technical heresies there. (Plus what looks like one of the core gnostic heresies later, again very common in Church teaching unfortunately.) Does that mean I think WLC (if in fact he gave those explanations) was committing the _sin_ of heresy? No; as far as I can tell (not being able to fully see his heart, of course), he wasn't.

Nevertheless, KP--the unbeliever!--was entirely correct to hop up and down on those attempts. He was, ironically, not only standing up for the letter (though somewhat by extraction) but for the _Spirit_, in doing so.

(Which is why I ended my analysis by giving him a solid edge in the debate. Ultimately, what does it matter whether KP was significantly less cogent in analyzing the Resurrection reports?--unless, of course, gnosticism _is_ true... {wry g})


Anyway, I didn't want Mark to think I was calling him a damned traitor by noting that in my reply I was acting to avoid a technical heresy (identifiable with something he had said). I _did_ agree he gave some very good comments, and I meant that very solidly.

Jason

Edward T. Babinski said...

The son of the famed Protestant Evangelical apologist, Francis Schaeffer, i.e., Frank (Franky), left his father's Protestant Evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodoxy, and even wrote a couple of semi-autobiographical novels, once of which was titled, Saving Grandma. Francis Shaeffer's grandma, like Plantinga's, apparently was never "saved." Also check out the prequel, Portofino, i.e., for anyone who wants to know what it was like "growing up Schaeffer."

I said...

I don't think I know of one Calvinist who says, or has said, that total depravity means that we are as wicked as we can be.

Edward T. Babinski said...

So what is total depravity? And how exactly does it differ form semi-total depravity?

And if a person can work full time for a charity and still be considered "totally depraved," does the term have any real meaning or application except in the realm of theological gum chewing?

I said...

Ed,

Of course since you are an unbeliever you will not accept the perspective from which we view life (you cannot). But, for starters, since I believe (and I believe the Bible supports this) that there is more to a moral act than it being simply in line with some norm, then there is more to your question that just "working full time for charity." Putting aside questions of vagueness (for example, I don't know what you mean and whether it really is "good" that someone work "full time" for "charity." Does this person get paid? If not, how does he eat? Is he paid well? What is "full time?" 8 hours a day? Does he have a family? If he's is not paid well, is he supporting his family? Etc.), it is not sufficient to just follow some norm (granting this is a norm). There is considerations of the motive and goal. Does this person do it to glorify God? Where is his heart? Does he do all of this perfectly? Or is he affected by sin even in his desire to "work full time for charity?" Many questions. Christians and unbelievers will have a hard time talking since unbelievers seem bent on harboring a knowledge of Christian theology that is as deep as a puzzle (some, most (?), of them, at least).

Anyway, in answer to your question: First, "semi/total" seems like an oxymoron. Second, it means that all of your faculties are affacted by sin and you have lost any ability to perform a spiritual good that accompanies salvation, thus man, dead in sin, is unable to convert himself. You have no "neutral" or "unaffected" faculty (cognitive, moral, psychological, etc.). The whole man needs salvation. Your mind and body need saving. That's a place to start, at least.

I said...

"as deep as a puddle"

Anonymous said...

Plantinga is making a grave error here. He's letting his intuitions shape his theology, when it should be vice-versa. If the most natural interpretation of the relevant Bible passages were to teach that torturing babies for fun is obligatory, and your most fundamental moral intuitions were to contradict this, then the appropriate thing to do would be to revise your moral intuitions and believe that torturing babies for fun is obligatory. Also, if the most natural interpretation of the relevant Bible passages were to teach that there are no material objects, or that the world has only existed for ten minutes, or that other people are unconscious automata, and your most fundamental perceptual, memorial, etc. intuitions contradicted those intuitions, then the appropriate thing to do would be to abandon the latter for the former.

Victor Reppert said...

This is the best anti-Calvinist sock puppet I have seen yet.

Anonymous said...

The key problem -- despite the cheers from Victor when we have an anti-Calvinist sock puppet, and jeers from Victor when it is a Calvinist sock puppet -- is the term "most natural interpretation." That was never, ever, the Calvinist response to Reppert. Even Victor said that the Bible could change moral intuitions of his. So, not only did you put up a straw man, you also undercut Victor Reppert, the man, the myth, the legend himself!

Victor, why cheer instead of correct? I thought this place was a place of honest, charitable representation?

If this kind of BS is allowed, well then: Man is so smart and studly that EVEN IF God almighty tells him, straight to his face, that X is the case, if it doesn't "sit well" with me then I will tell God that he is wrong and that I should be God instead. Heck, I will even tell God that X is not consistent with his own nature, no matter what the dolt says.

What? That's not accurate? Arminians don't think like that? DI is a joke.

All I saw with this post was another one of Reppert's big blunders. He thought total depravity meant one thing when no Reformed thinker ever put it like that. What a "scholar."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1,

My atheist college friends and I want to thank you for the approval. You see, we all have strong intuitions to the contrary that an immaterial being, "god," could cause things to happen in the physical world. So I hope you can see why we are justified in denying the Bible's teaching that he does.

And, God should have "made" you back when the Israelites were around. Perhaps you could have taught them your impeccable common sense. It sure the hell would have been against my intuitions to commit genocide, so I would have just denied God's command (through Moses, I'm told) to decimate the Canaanites.

Now, I'm sure you'll have all sorts of "reasons" and "justifications" and "answers" for my friends and I. Don't bother. Why? Well, because I assume that the Calvinists have all sorts of "reasons" and "justifications" and "answers" to your arguments. Just like you won't be persuaded by theirs, we won't be persuaded by yours.

We just love it when theists debate and end up hurting theism just to show another theist wrong about his imaginary god belief.

thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Even Victor said that the Bible could change moral intuitions of his. So, not only did you put up a straw man, you also undercut Victor Reppert, the man, the myth, the legend himself!

Hmm. This seems to me to miss the mark. Notice that in the comment you're addressing, the author is making a point about the impropriety (epistemic or otherwise) of giving up one's most fundamental intuitions (whether moral, perceptual, or...) -- even in the face of the most natural interpretation of the relevant set of Bible passages. Perhaps I missed something -- and I may well have -- but I don't think Reppert has said that he would abandon his most fundamental intuitions if they clashed with the most relevant set of Bible passages. Or has he? If so, I'd be very interested to see the reference, if you know of it.

In any case, isn't the general point of the comment -- i.e., the point that one's most fundamental intuitions have more weight than a particular interpretation of scripture (even the most natural one -- heck, even a compelling, uncontestable one) -- pretty straightforward? I thought the comment produced a vivid (if enthymatic) reductio of the contrary view. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

And, God should have "made" you back when the Israelites were around. Perhaps you could have taught them your impeccable common sense. It sure the hell would have been against my intuitions to commit genocide, so I would have just denied God's command (through Moses, I'm told) to decimate the Canaanites.

This seems to me to underscore the force of original Anon's point, and the absurdity of the view he or she is critiquing. When you read those passages that seem to say that God endorsed genocide, you should let your most fundamental moral intuitions guide you here about the wrongness of genocide. You might abandon the belief that:

1. Properly understood and interpreted, God is commanding the Israelites to commit genocide.
2. God (and not just the Israelite leaders, who wanted to get others to get behind their campaign to take others' stuff) is the one who commanded the Israelites to commit genocide.
3. The events described in these passages are historical.

or some other proposition lurking in the vicinity, but the one belief you shouldn't abandon here is

4. Genocide is morally prohibited.

For Pete's sake, how could any sane person think otherwise?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

Victor said that if God himself told him X, he would believe it.

How about you?

Say God told you that idealism was the case. No material objects exist. Would you tell God that he was wrong?

But you seem to want to get around the real point. The real point is that your entire objection trades on the claim "most natural interpretation." That's just the cheap way to score a point.

"4. Genocide is morally prohibited.

For Pete's sake, how could any sane person think otherwise?"

I don't know, say group G has virus V such that V will kill every other single member of the human race H in one week. The only hope of saving H is to eliminate all of G. To do that is to commit genocide. I don't know, maybe you intuition is to let H and G die?

That might be one example of how a sane person would think a particular act of genocide morally justifiable.

You are also using your "intuition" as a "trump card." Alan Rhoda and Victor Reppert both said trump cards are "no-no’s."

As far as using your intuition to trump inerrant Scripture, Reppert said:

"Also, I have never said that moral intuitions are infallible or that they are a trump card in all cases. If I study a Scripture passage and find that it conflicts with my understanding of God's goodness, I might revise my concept of goodness, I might question my understanding of the passage, or I might decide I don't know which is wrong. So I think you're wrong to accuse me of trump card theology."

So it is perfectly legitimate to believe that if an inerrant Scripture teaches X and your intuitions tell you ~X, and you believe X, it would be irrational to believe ~X.

There are other considerations too. Some people might have a "most fundamental moral intuition" to the effect that it is always wrong everywhere to have an innocent man die for the sins of guilty people. Some people might have a "fundamental intuition" to the effect that non-material entities cannot cause anything in the physical world. You want to write them a blank check to deny theism? Does all one need to say to deny your interrpetation of the Bible is that it conflicts with a fundamental intuition of theirs? Did you even think this out?

Anyway, I see no purpose continuing with someone obviously bent on critiquing a straw man version of Calvinism. Whatever helps you sleep at night, I guess.

Anonymous said...

In fact, a "fudamental epistemic intuition" of mine is that if God says X I had better not say ~X. I therefore dismiss any attempt at argument on your end without further debate since my "fundametal intuition" is under attack by you, and you and your arguments are not as certain as my "fundamental moral intuition." So I guess we're done here? That was fun.

Anonymous said...

Victor said that if God himself told him X, he would believe it.

Did he say it in the unqualified way you seem to imply here -- i.e., for any X, if God told Victor X, then Victor would believe X? For some reason, I have a hard time believing that if, say, Victor had a powerful God experience where God told him to, say, anally rape a six-month-old baby boy, he would believe that it's permissible to anally rape a six-month-old baby boy.

If you had an experience that seemed to be of God telling you to anally rape a six-month-old baby boy -- let the experience be as vivid and compelling as you please, but it can't include God giving you a reason, but just a command -- which proposition would you abandon:

1. it's morally prohibited to anally rape a six-month-old baby boy.

2. God told me to anally rape a six-month-old baby boy.

Victor Reppert said...

If God (an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being) were to tell me X, then I would believe that X. That's a good rule, although a "noble lie" by an OOP being, for my good or for the good of others, is at least logically possible.

But what does that buy us? There are some things that an omnipotent being might tell me that would persuade me that if that message had come from an omnipotent being, that being would not be perfectly good.

Victor Reppert said...

Anon: All I saw with this post was another one of Reppert's big blunders. He thought total depravity meant one thing when no Reformed thinker ever put it like that. What a "scholar."

VR: Did you read the post? Plantinga, who is being quote here, explicitly says that he believes the doctrine of total depravity, properly understood, and he gives a short explication of the real doctrine. You scholarship, or in this instance your ability to read, is what should be questioned here.

Victor Reppert said...

The important thing, one I've insisted on from the beginning, is that the term "God" includes a positive moral evaluation, which persumably means something. A being could be omnipotent, omniscient, the inspirer of some book, etc. etc., and not be perfectly good. Such a being, therefore, could not be properly referred to as God.

Anonymous said...

Anon said: "Did he say it in the unqualified way you seem to imply here -- i.e., for any X, if God told Victor X, then Victor would believe X?"

This fits right in line with your other burning of the Calvinst straw man via the "most natural interpretation."

I know of no Calvinist that would claim that for any X whatever, if "God" said X, we would believe X.

I take this you mean it in some hypothetical sense, i.e., God would utter a falsehood.

On a more robust understanding of God, a less heretical hypothetical, since God can never lie and since he always tells what is true, right, just, then for any X that the true God might say, if that God says that X is the case, we should believe it.

And, Victor substantiated this above.

So, if this is all you were trying to demonstrate was your vague, unrefined and undefined heretical hypothetical, it's true but uninteresting as it applies to hardly any theist I know.

Anyway, we're done here as your straw man arguments have been exposed for what they are. Again we see that people can offer half-baked arguments against Calvinists on this blog but once a bit of analysis gets supplied, the arguments often evaporate into thin air.

Anonymous said...

Victor: " Did you read the post? Plantinga, who is being quote here, explicitly says that he believes the doctrine of total depravity, properly understood, and he gives a short explication of the real doctrine. You scholarship, or in this instance your ability to read, is what should be questioned here."

Anon: Right, I read it. And it was clear to me that you meant it as a dig to what you took to be a "strong" Calvinist understanding of Total Depravity. Otherwise I fail to see the purpose of your post, especially given all your past debates with Calvinists.

Victor Reppert said...

Stop being so bloody presumptous, Paul, or whoever you are. This was a redated post, written long before I had the debates with Calvinists, and I posted it because I thought it was interesting and amusing. Also because it helps explain what is really meant by Total Depravity.

I don't try to do battle every time I post something. Sometimes I am trying to understand something better, or clarify something, or just putting something humorous up.

Victor Reppert said...

One interesting issue, though. R. C. Sproul says that if you really understand and accept Total Depravity, you can see that the other four points are true as well. It seems that on the rather weak understanding of total depravity explicated by Plantinga, that can't possibly be the case. But Sproul, of course, doesn't speak for all Calvinists.

Anonymous said...

since God can never lie and since he always tells what is true, right, just, then for any X that the true God might say, if that God says that X is the case, we should believe it.

There are at least two ways to read this in relation to the baby anal rape case:

I. You reason that because God is perfectly good, it must be that what he has commanded you to do here -- anally raping the six-month-old baby boy -- is morally good, or at least permissible. So, you abandon the belief that it's morally impermissible to anally rape the six-month-old baby boy.

II. You reason that since God is perfectly good, it must be that, whatever is the cause of your experience, it isn't a veridical experience of God (or at least not a perfectly good God, if the two differ).

On (I), you put the authority of God (or the God-experience -- which, as I put it in an earlier comment, is "as vivid and compelling as you please, but it can't include God giving you a reason, but just a command") over your moral intuitions. But on (II) you put your moral intuitions over God (or the God-experience).

So which is it?

Robert said...

Hello Victor,

“Stop being so bloody presumptuous, Paul, or whoever you are. This was a redated post, written long before I had the debates with Calvinists, and I posted it because I thought it was interesting and amusing. Also because it helps explain what is really meant by Total Depravity.”

So you think Manata is at it again, huh? :-) I think it is him too, same arguments, same hostility, same . . .

The issue of the proper conception of “total depravity” is an important issue in theology. I say **conception** because the bible never uses the term “total depravity” or defines “depravity”. Rather, the bible says some things about the condition of nonbelievers. From these statements combined with one’s theology about the fall of Adam into sin, people develop their conception of “depravity.”

“One interesting issue, though. R. C. Sproul says that if you really understand and accept Total Depravity, you can see that the other four points are true as well. It seems that on the rather weak understanding of total depravity explicated by Plantinga, that can't possibly be the case. But Sproul, of course, doesn't speak for all Calvinists.”

Sproul is correct, if you hold a certain conception of “depravity” then the other points logically follow. This conception of “depravity” claims that sin has so effected human beings so that they are incapable of having a faith response to the gospel unless they are regenerated first. Since only those who are regenerated first will overcome the effects of sin and have a faith response. Only those whom God chooses to regenerate first, will be saved. And who does God select to be regenerated first? Those whom he has chosen to be saved (i.e., unconditional election). And so God then sends Jesus into the world to die for the sins of these elect (i.e., limited atonement). Those who are fortunate enough to be chosen to be regenerated will inevitably come to faith in Christ because this regeneration produces a faith that trusts in Jesus (i.e., irresistible grace). And those so chosen for regeneration, will not lose their salvation or depart from God because God keeps these chosen ones in the faith and enables them to persevere in their faith (i.e., perseverance of the saints). You can see that in this way of thinking, the key element, the domino that leads to the other falling dominoes is this particular conception of total depravity.

In order to bolster this conception of depravity the calvinist will also argue that when the bible speaks of people being in “bondage to sin”, that means they are unable to do any spiritual good (another of their arguments that the nonbeliever cannot have a faith response unless first regenerated because he cannot do any spiritual good, faith is a spiritual good, therefore he cannot have faith). From this way of thinking the calvinist will also conclude that the nonbeliever can **only** sin and **cannot** do any good things.
I believe that Plantinga is much closer to the mark when it comes to the proper conception of depravity when he says:

“I remember wondering in particular about total depravity. I do indeed subscribe to that doctrine, which, as I understand it, quite properly points out that for most or all of us, every important area of our lives is distorted and compromised by sin.”

The bible does teach that sin has corrupted all aspects of our being. But this corruption has not wiped out human nature completely. Sin separates us from God (which God views as being in a condition of “spiritual death”) and adversely effects our relationships, our environment, everything.

The bible does not teach that people need to be regenerated first in order to have a faith response to the gospel message. The bible does not teach that the nonbeliever is incapable of doing any good actions (unfortunately some calvinists so intent on maintaining their conception of depravity will argue that the nonbeliever is incapable of doing any good actions whatsoever, and in an effort to maintain this claim will redefine “good” as something that only the believer can do).

I forgot who said it (or wrote it) but someone once said that if you want to see the effects of sin just look around and use the world as your laboratory. Well if we do that we do see sin corrupting everything. We see people as being a combination of both good and bad (including believers). We see some nonbelievers who are very nice people with good character who truly care about and help others. We also see some believers who are very nasty people who lack character and exhibit pride and who do less good actions than some of the nonbelievers do. It is significant that Jesus himself gave a parable, the parable of the sower in which the world is represented as a very mixed bag that will remain so mixed until the final judgment. In other words we will continue to see the effects of sin and see both believers and nonbelievers living in the world together. Or to put it as Bob Dylan puts it in one of his songs by the same title: “Everything is broken.” **That** I believe is a good characterization of “depravity”: everything is broken, corrupted, tarnished by sin.

Robert

Robert said...

Babinski wrote:

“So what is total depravity? And how exactly does it differ form semi-total depravity?”

I believe that you are being facetious, nevertheless I will treat your question as a serious question because the issue is important enough to be properly discussed and not being caricatured.

Total depravity is the doctrine that sin has effected all aspects of mans being and has effected everything (including the physical universe). Christians differ in their particular conceptions of depravity but all agree that it involves the universal effects of sin.

“And if a person can work full time for a charity and still be considered "totally depraved," does the term have any real meaning or application except in the realm of theological gum chewing?”

Contrary to some who will argue that the nonbeliever is incapable of doing any good actions whatsoever. I would maintain that in most cases we can all recognize good actions when we see them. Take the 9/11 event as an example. Some of those firemen and policemen who died were believers and some were nonbelievers. In going into those buildings seeking to help others and protect others I would say those were good actions, regardless of who did them.

Regarding your question about viewing a person who “can work full time for a charity and still be considered "totally depraved,". If we define depravity as the belief or doctrine that sin has effected everything and everyone, then that person who is doing the good action of helping the charity also has been effected by sin. While they are doing good, they may also be motivated by selfish desires such as looking good to others. The point is that sin corrupts and has effected everybody.

Daniel Dennett was wrong when he said evolutionary belief is the acid that eats away at everything. That is just one element, just a small part of the corrosive effects of the real universal acid: which is sin.

Robert

Anonymous said...

Victor: "Stop being so bloody presumptous, Paul, or whoever you are. This was a redated post, written long before I had the debates with Calvinists, and I posted it because I thought it was interesting and amusing. Also because it helps explain what is really meant by Total Depravity.

I don't try to do battle every time I post something. Sometimes I am trying to understand something better, or clarify something, or just putting something humorous up."

Anonymous: Oh, sorry, LOL then! Good times.

Anonymous said...

Vic, maybe cheering the arminian "sock puppet" (who got thrashed, btw) yet going on record as "condemning" the calvinist "sock puppet" heightened sensitivity?

Mike Darus said...

Carr and Babinsky raised two important questions about total depravity.
Carr asked it is a defeater for the reliability of reason.
Babinsky asked if it erases the good that nonbelievers do.

The Bible describes the mind of unbelievers as "darkened" in need of enlightenment. Total Depravity diminishes the capacity of the mind but there can still be significant capacity.

There is a continuum of opinions about the degree of capacity that the mind retains. Those who tend to be Arminians will be optimistic. Victor's theological tendencies are consistent with an optimistic view of mental capacities of unbelievers to come to correct understandings about God through the use of reason. Classic Arminianism is pessimistic about the mental capacities of the unbeliever who lacks the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to provide enlightenment. But they claim God provides a "common grace" to all that overcomes this. The effect is an optimistic view of mental capacity to understand spiritual issues because everyone has access to this common enlightenment.

I sense the modern interpretation relies heavily on human nature created in God's image. This is primarily a capacity to relate to God. There is less consideration of the effects of sin in the form of depravity and more of a reliance on the image of God providing a basis for a reliable conscience and ability to reason.

On a more basic level, Reason is in the realm of Natural Revelation. Scripture is Special Revelation. Special Revelation has greater capabilities and reliability than Natural Revelation. I worry that Victor and C S Lewis both lose sight of this when they are willing to sacrifice inerrancy if there is a conflict with God's goodness.

Anonymous said...

Were you planning on answering Anon 8:38's question (the "which is it?" question? Just wondering.

Mike Darus said...

I can give it a shot.

The norm is that our moral compass agrees with God's commands. If there is conflict, God is typically the high road and our moral sensitvities require adjustment to the good.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is quite possible for us to posit moral positions that apparently exceed God's revealed standards. For example, total pacifism can appear to be a higher road that a just war ethic. We can posit that taking any life including animal or plant life is morally reprehensible. There can be a contrived moral high ground that in honest analysis is just wrong-headed.

The interesting issues are explored in Scripture such as when God commands the extermination of the Amalekites ( I Samuel 15). There are many Old Testament misadventures that challenge our moral sensibilities. Some of these are notable because of their exceptional character. The experience served to establish just rules of engagement serving as a counter example that just once such an action was acceptable but only under exceptional circumstances with a direct revelation from God that will never be repeated. There will be no room for the "God told me to" excuse.

There is good reason to believe that the human is the one who should adjust in a mismatch of God's revealed morality and human moral intuitions. The moral compass of the human is easily compromised. The good news is that the source of our moral compass is God. For this reason, the baby rape scenario is not likely. Even if depravity has diminished our capacities, our capacities can be quite good. It is very possible to make oneself more depraved so we can expect degrees of depravity and degrees of moral sensitivity.

Saint and Sinner said...

Total Depravity, if one actually looks up the definition in a Calvinist Confession, Catechism, or Systematic Theology, is defined to mean several things:

1. The corruption of human nature. Every part of our being is corrupted and strives against God. This does not mean that man is as bad as can be since God gives common grace.

2. The legal guilt and subsequent condemnation before God.

3. The inability to choose God out of love for Him. [One can, of course, superficially choose God out of fear of punishment.] It does not mean that man lost his rational faculties. It does mean, however, that man will view the data of the world through his unbelieving worldview and so suppress the truth of God.