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.

15 comments:

Mike Darus said...

Victor said: "Surely, the saved can be brought to a realization that they are there by God's grace without having to damn anyone."

If everyone is saved is anyone saved?

If no one is damned, what is the meaning of being saved?

Alan Rhoda said...

Mike: "If everyone is saved is anyone saved?"

Me: The logic of that question completely escapes me. Being saved plausibly entails the possibility of some being lost, but surely it doesn't entail the actuality, much less the necessity, that some be lost?

Paul Manata said...

Victor,

"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"

An PvI notes that there are problems with libertarian free will too. That's why he's a mysterian.

Victor Reppert said...

There are difficulties with every position. You have to pick the position with the fewest difficulties. The arguments he uses against compatibilism in that book seem to me to be very strong, providing a good reason to reject that, even if there are mysteries with the position he does hold.

Van Inwagen, being a materialist about the mind, makes libertarianism more difficult to accept than it would otherwise be.

Paul Manata said...

But my point was that you're being selective.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear that you don't think we can't answer the problem of evil anymore! :-)

steve said...

“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.”

If God doesn’t save everyone we pray for, and if God knows the outcome (i.e. that he won’t save everyone we pray for), then God intended that outcome. He intended to damn some people whose salvation we prayed for.

That isn’t a distinctively Calvinistic conclusion. That follows if you (a) deny universalism (b) while you affirm God’s knowledge of the future.

Moreover, I can be justified in praying for something even if God has no intention of answering my prayer in this particular case.

Darek Barefoot said...

Steve

>>If God doesn’t save everyone we pray for, and if God knows the outcome (i.e. that he won’t save everyone we pray for), then God intended that outcome.<<

I think that Victor may have by "intended" meant "desired" or "delighted in." As in, God says that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but he intends it and carries it out because it is as Victor puts it a "sad necessity" (Ezek 33:11). Just a suggestion. I'm not trying to put words into Victor's mouth.

steve said...

“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.”

That’s not an argument. It boils down to your bald opinion that determinism is unjust. There’s nothing here to refute.

“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.”

Actually, it’s that sort of reaction that illustrates the need for reprobation. Some folks don’t appreciate the gratuity of grace.

“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.”

Once again, Victor, that’s not an argument. Just a bald statement of your opinion. So there’s nothing to refute.

Moreover, the idea that eternal punishment is predicated on retributive punishment this isn’t distinctive to Calvinism.

“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.”

To the contrary, the onus lies squarely on you to justify why you think in the above ways. That’s not something you’re entitled to take for granted, then say, given all that, there’s a heavy burden of proof on the Calvinist.

“Does it meet that standard?”

What standard? Whose standard? Where’s the supporting argument?

“If there were scholarly consensus on these matters, then perhaps it could, but there is no such consensus.”

Oh, come on, Victor! That’s such a lame, transparent copout. If Carson and Witherington disagree, then you have to evaluate their arguments. Mere agreement or disagreement is hardly probative one way or the other.

“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.”

You’ve *shown* nothing of the sort. You merely *said* it.

Victor Reppert said...

VR: “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.”
SH: Actually, it’s that sort of reaction that illustrates the need for reprobation. Some folks don’t appreciate the gratuity of grace.
VR: God can cause me to appreciate the gratuity of grace by, well, sovereignly determining that I will appreciate the gratuity of grace. By giving me some of that good old irresistible grace. God is omnipotent and sovereign. right?

steve said...

"VR: God can cause me to appreciate the gratuity of grace by, well, sovereignly determining that I will appreciate the gratuity of grace. By giving me some of that good old irresistible grace. God is omnipotent and sovereign. right?"

Not the point of my statement. An unmistakable way of illustrating the gratuity of grace is by saving some rather than all. That goes to show that no one is entitled to salvation.

Victor Reppert said...

I am attempting to explain why I assign a high burden of proof to Calvinist claims. That's all I'm doing here. I'm not issuing a proof designed to show that no one should be a Calvinist.

You switch back and forth from impugning my exegetical abilities (admittedly I have not spent my life in Bible scholarship) to insisting that in order to hold the beliefs I have, I have to be able to produce an analysis of the exegetical arguments on each side.
I find this a little odd.

Victor Reppert said...

But the "illustration" could have accomplished in any number of less harmful ways. You were replying to my comment, which was making this very point.

Paul Manata said...

"Victor Reppert said...
I am attempting to explain why I assign a high burden of proof to Calvinist claims. That's all I'm doing here. I'm not issuing a proof designed to show that no one should be a Calvinist."

Anyone can just "assign" a "high burden of proof." We've been arguing that your assignings are unwarranted. Or, underdetermined by what you've been able to show. That's been the purpose of all my posts.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/04/more-from-reppert.html

Saint and Sinner said...

Shouldn't the burden of proof lie with the one who asserts the compatibility (sorry!) of exhaustive Divine foreknowledge and LFW?

IlĂ­on said...

Saint And Sinner: "Shouldn't the burden of proof lie with the one who asserts the compatibility (sorry!) of exhaustive Divine foreknowledge and LFW?"

No.

As the 'materialists' are fond of asserting (of course, only when doing so appears to be to their advantage): "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Both the denial of "libertarian free will" and the denial of "exhaustive Divine foreknowledge" are extraordinary claims ... these denials are, in fact, far beyond extraordinary, for they are contrary to logical possibility.


It is not logically possible that I (or you) "do not have" (as we commonly, but incorrect, phrase it) "libertarian free will." One does not *prove* that one is a free agent, one *knows* it; this knowledge is one of the starting-points of all other knowledge one can attain.

Those who deny "libertarian free will" either: 1) simply deny it; or, 2) if they attempt to prove this denial, they contradict themselves: the proof cannot even be attempted unless the conclusion of the proof is false; the very act of attempting to *convince* another to the denial is a self-defeater of the denial.


Likewise, it is not logically possible that God's knowledge is not "exhaustive (fore)knowledge" -- That the "little godders" (as, for instance, the "Open Theologians") cannot seem to grasp that God is not an effect of time/space does not change reality. Or God.

Moreover, to even *speak* of God's "foreknowledge" is a reflection of *our* time-bound limitations. God is not "in" time, as we are: time is an aspect of the Creation, and God is the Creator, the Cause of the Creation, he is not an effect of it (as we are).


There is another point these "little godders" (and 'materialists,' for that matter) cannot (or will not) grasp: knowing that something will happen -- even knowing without possibility of error, as God knows -- is not the cause of it happening.