Wednesday, September 02, 2009

From Calvinism to atheism

There is an a way of arguing from Calvinism to atheism. If the Bible is true, we have no libertarian free will (based on Calvinist arguments), but that means that God could have created us in such a way that everyone free does what is right, and everyone goes to heaven, but didn't. But a God who not only allowed sin, but also damnation, when God could just as easily have chosen their salvation is not a God worthy of worship. Hence, if the the God of the Bible exists, he is not worthy of worship (is not omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good), and hence there is no being in existence that satisfies this requirement. Therefore, atheism is true.

The closest I ever came to atheism was when I first encountered the biblical case for Calvinism. (I realize that someone will probably use this as the basis for an ad hominem argument against me. Remember, ad hominem is a fallacy.)

47 comments:

normajean said...

Interesting, The ONE time I flirted with Atheism was when I interpreted Paul's letters through the lens of Luther, Calvin, and Augustine. That was a very dark time for me. And I don't mean that with scorn, as those guys have done quite a bit of good for the Christian faith. I just wish pop-Christians could sift through their stuff and ask better questions before they swallow.

Josh said...

Vic, have you ever read the paper "And the Atheist Shall Lie Down with the Calvinist"?

Anonymous said...

Victor, is it really atheism if you believe God exists but refuse to worship Him? I understand what you're saying (you wouldn't worship such a God) but I don't think you could really call the resulting state you'd be in "atheism".

philip m said...

Anonymous,

As long as "God" means a being worthy of worship, and "atheism" means "The belief there is no God" then what Victor is saying is true.

That's why people typically don't bring up this point in discussions on the problem of evil. Of courst, under the traditional framing of the issue, the only conclusion of the argument is that God is either not all-powerful, not all-knowing, or not-all good. But most people just take it to mean he doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

philip m,

I understand the reasoning, like I said. But that seems like wildly redefining terms, and it always has. Even in conversations about the problem of evil I have this objection. If any god/God exists, any mindful creator/sustainer of our universe/all universes, then atheism is incorrect.

Anyway, I don't want to distract from Victor's post. I just wanted to voice my objection to that use of the term, which seems ridiculously skewed.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

God could have created us in such a way that everyone free does what is right, and everyone goes to heaven, but didn't.

I almost daren't point this out, Victor, in case of the Obvious Police finally catch up with me, but that's true under libertarian assumptions as well. Unless, you know, you're going to engage in some ad hoc special pleading transworld depravity ploy.

But a God who not only allowed sin, but also damnation, when God could just as easily have chosen their salvation is not a God worthy of worship

Are you a universalist, now? How is this from Calvinism to atheism? Isn't this from orthodox Christianity to atheism?

Hence, if the the God of the Bible exists, he is not worthy of worship (is not omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good), and hence there is no being in existence that satisfies this requirement. Therefore, atheism is true.

Which is why people tend to assume that you're just a confused atheist—or at best, a horrified non-Christian theist.

normajean said...

Dom, the Calvinist conception of God doesn't match the vast number of moral intuitions about what God would be like, in case He existed. Do you really wish to tell us that we're reading the scriptures poorly? Given that your interpretation is hardly obvious shouldn’t you take serious the great many scholars, lay folk, and intuitions scratching their heads at you? Doesn’t that concern you?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Sorry Norma, I just don't share those intuitions. In fact, I find them blasphemous; the predictable result of the essence of sin: the desire to be self-sovereign. Also, contrary to what you say, Calvinism is entirely obvious in Scripture—unless you're allowing your blasphemous intuitions to obfuscate it.

normajean said...

Dom, you take moral responsibility to mean self-sovereign? Hmm... Perhaps you mean something entirely different when you use the terms.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I take "moral responsibility" to mean "accountability to God for my choices and actions which pertain to his law".

normajean said...

Dom, what are you suggesting by self sovereignty?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

The desire to have more power in one's own self than one really does. For instance, the power of libertarian free will. Or the power to decide what is best for ourselves. Or the power to purse one's lips, shake one's head, and say, "Mm, no, I just can't bring myself to believe that God is good. I just don't have those intuitions." Which, as well as appearing to be an Arminian favorite (at least around these here parts), is certainly a stock tactic of atheists.

normajean said...

Dom, just to be clear, you take an Arminian conception of God to be blasphemous?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Without qualifiers? Yes. Would I normally add qualifiers? Yes.

normajean said...

Best of providence

Josh said...

"I almost daren't point this out, Victor, in case of the Obvious Police finally catch up with me, but that's true under libertarian assumptions as well. Unless, you know, you're going to engage in some ad hoc special pleading transworld depravity ploy."

Uhhh, no. That may be Plantinga's addition, but it certainly isn't necessitated by the libertarian position. IF you accept Plantinga's conception of possible worlds, and IF you accept his essentialism, and IF you accept his account of God's ability to just actualize any possible world that he would like to, then maybe. But of course nothing in the libertarian position itself leads one to those conclusions.

Matthew said...

Hi Vic,
for some reason, this reminds me of Mackie's and Flew's response to the Free Will Defense. They said they were compatibilists, so they rejected the idea that God determining their every action results in them not being praiseworthy for their moral actions.

It almost sounds like satire.

arminianperspectives said...

Matthew,

What almost sounds like satire, Vics post or this,

They said they were compatibilists, so they rejected the idea that God determining their every action results in them not being praiseworthy for their moral actions.

???

I would personally go with the latter.

a helmet said...

It isn't very far from calvinism to allahism either.

arminianperspectives said...

Uhhh, no. That may be Plantinga's addition, but it certainly isn't necessitated by the libertarian position. IF you accept Plantinga's conception of possible worlds, and IF you accept his essentialism, and IF you accept his account of God's ability to just actualize any possible world that he would like to, then maybe. But of course nothing in the libertarian position itself leads one to those conclusions.

Good point. Dominic's favorite arguments against the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge, as well as his strange insistence that Arminianism is as determinative as Calvinism, seem to always be pointed at full blown Molinism.

Since not all Arminians who affirm libertarian freedom and God's exhaustive foreknowledge are Molinists, his cherished arguments don't amount to much for non-Molinist Arminians (like me). But if Dominic only wants to try to debunk Molinism, that is, of course, his free choice ;-)

God Bless,
Ben

Blue Devil Knight said...

Of course Philip M is right, it wouldn't be atheism any more than believing in Zeus is atheism. It would just mean you believed in a supernatural god that wasn't worthy of worship.

We atheists need to protect our reputation we don't want any god haters in our ranks, but people who don't believe in any gods. :)

A.M. Mallett said...

I have always found it curious that atheists tend to understand Calvinist dogma more readily than understanding historic and orthodox Christian teachings. That has always been a very telling observation for me. A carnal, worldview grasps and understands Calvinism seeing it as logical yet the spiritual things of God are not understood by a carnal world. Granted, this is merely a philosophical observation but why is it that both Calvinists and atheists fail to understand the plain and simple doctrnes of orthodox Christianity?

mattghg said...

It isn't very far from calvinism to allahism either.

Quite.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hey Ben, thanks for your response. That does clarify a previously confusing and inept argument. An obvious problem still remains, though: why the ad hoc requirement for freedom? In fact, this seems to be one of the most outrageous of all Arminian claims. As Peter pointed out, it doesn't appear even remotely plausible. And I'd add to that by observing that all of the most important relationships we have appear to violate this principle of freedom—indeed, that they violate it in increasing degrees, proportional to the importance of the relationship. Take, for instance, fatherly love. How much freedom do you think I had in the question of whether I should love my daughter? Was it a lot? Was it possible for me to choose not to? Or was it virtually none? The answer, obviously, is the latter—it happened inevitably, as a necessity of my nature.

More tellingly, I was even less free to love God. I was an atheist—then God converted me. That is my experience. I resisted God as much as I could—yet he simply changed my heart so that I could not help but love him. That is my experience. Under your view, I therefore don't actually have a genuine relationship with God. My love for God isn't "real". How do you justify taking that view?

Contra the Arminian view, it seems obvious, as a matter of general experience, that the most meaningful kinds of relationships; the most meaningful kinds of love; are those which are not chosen at all. The kinds in which we have no choice whatever. That, of course, aligns well with the fact that things which are particularly worth loving tend to invoke a natural, inevitable response in us. And that in turn aligns well with compatibilism. Conversely, if we are free to choose to love something, then that thing can't be particularly love-worthy in the first place to evoke such a paltry, disinterested or ambivalent reaction.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Am Mallett said:
"Granted, this is merely a philosophical observation but why is it that both Calvinists and atheists fail to understand the plain and simple doctrnes of orthodox Christianity?"

It is a question asking for an explanation of a putative sociological fact about the intellectual equipment of two groups of people. My hunch is the sociological fact is not a fact.

I personally have little trouble understanding what Christians are saying, rather I have trouble believing it. My hunch is that the Calvinists are the same way.

In general, anyone who cares about the minutiae of this debate will likely have the basic intellectual equipment required to understand the general ideas involved.

As for atheists having more affinity with Calvinists than Arminians, that's a crazy oversimplification. Atheism is a quite diverse group. For instance, many atheists believe in libertarian free will (look at the objectivist nutballs for instance). That would put them closer to the Arminians on the relevant philosophical axis. Hence, in that sense the Arminians are closer to the atheists than the Calvinists.

Trying to score points against Christian group X by painting them as somehow conceptual bedfellows of the atheists, I personally find repugnant. And intellectually silly. Talk about ad hominem. You might as well say they are closer to baby rapists.

bossmanham said...

Blue Devil Knight says:

that's a crazy oversimplification

Then says:

That would put them closer to the Arminians on the relevant philosophical axis. Hence, in that sense the Arminians are closer to the atheists than the Calvinists.

Does this mean he thinks it's okay to attack one oversimplification with another?

A.M. Mallett said...

Blue devil, after several years of active apologetics, I have found not an affinity for Calvinism among atheists but rather a logical understanding of Calvinist determinist concepts and ideas. I am not stating atheists agree with or are allied in any sense. Instead this is a matter of observing who logically understands in light of the scriptural teaching that the carnal cannot understand the spiritual things of God.
It is an entirely in-house matter that I do not expect atheists to endorse.

James A. Gibson said...

Victor,

If this counts as a way of arguing from Calvinism to atheism, so should the following count as argument from some other view to atheism:

1. God cannot create agents who always do what is right. (Assumed premise)
2. It follows God cannot do everything.
3. Thus God is not omnipotent.
4. But if God exists, he is necessarily omnipotent (de re).
5. Thus, God does not exist.

(I realize that someone will probably use this as the basis for an ad hominem argument against me. Remember, ad hominem is a fallacy.)

But seriously Victor, if your post is not just autobiographical, that is, if you actually endorse your argument, I would like to know. I take it that my argument is no better *or worse* than your's, and I wouldn't assert my argument as anything more than rhetorical.

Victor Reppert said...

The three abide, faith, hope, and surrendering your sovereignty. And the greatest of these is surrendering your sovereignty.

Victor Reppert said...

I posted this in response to Unkle e's questeion as to why, as someone interested in Christian apologetics, I was as concerned as I have been with Calvinism. I do believe that Calvinism considerably weakens Christian theism from the point of view of the argument from evil. It does so in two ways. First,

James: Here is this argument:

1. God cannot create agents who always do what is right. (Assumed premise)
2. It follows God cannot do everything.
3. Thus God is not omnipotent.
4. But if God exists, he is necessarily omnipotent (de re).
5. Thus, God does not exist.

But, this, of course, is akin to the paradox of the stone, and it seems to me that it can be answered in much the way that the paradox of the stone is typically answered, God can't create a stone he can't lift, and he can't create a person on that always freely does what is right, for much the same reason, that (given incompatibilism) it isn't possible. And the incompatibilism need not be incompatibilism between freedom and determinism, just between freedom and determinism by another agent.

In as sense, the statement "God is not worthy of worship" is a contradiction in terms, since I consider it analytic to the concept of God that God is worthy of worship. An infinite supernatural being who was not good cannot correctly be referred to as God.

That is why Paul's apparently rhetorical question "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God," raises some interpretative questions. If God means a being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, then saying that a perfectly good being is not perfectly good is to contradict oneself. But persons who "answer back" to a being infinite in power whose goodness they doubt are, in essence, questioning the existence of an OOP being. So to say to someone raising that question "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God" begs the question, since it assumes exactly what the interlocutor is calling into question. The best I have been able to come up with on this is that the passage is saying "Unless you are actually raising doubts about whether the God you are now worshipping is actually good, you should consider the fact that there may be a reason for what God is doing, even if you don't know what it is. And there is a substantial amount of "answering back to God," in some sense, by people like Jeremiah and the Psalmists.

Victor Reppert said...

However, my primary purpose here was to point out the apologetical relevance of the issue of Calvinism, rather than to score points on behalf of anti-Calvinism based on supposed atheistic implications.

James A. Gibson said...

I see. I think you're right to attack Calvinism if you believe it makes the faith weaker. I likewise do the same when I argue with people who aren't Calvinists. And so do atheists with different philosophical commitments than other atheists who think theists will pounce on atheism for the other atheist's mistake. I do not fault you for making an attack as long as you think it weakens the view (Christianity) from its most powerful presentation.

However, it seems to me that my arguments against opposing views (to mine) ought to at least present those views in their strongest forms, *if* I am to be justified in asserting that the opposing views actually weaken the case for some pertinent claim.

I'm also dubious about your justification for the apologetic relevance of Calvinism due to the *argument* you provided. If the presentation of a ridiculous argument from Calvinism and some auxiliary premises to the conclusion of atheism is all you need to show relevance, then so does my argument. Perhaps you'll grant this point, but I think you should not. The reason for that is, well, cf. my previous paragraph.

Blue Devil Knight said...

bossmanham said. "Does this mean he thinks it's okay to attack one oversimplification with another?"

Look up reductio ad absurdum.

AM: I was just sticking up for the naturalists that advocate libertarian free will, which seems the most relevant to the Arminianism/Calvninism debates (to the minor extent I understand such theological debates).

Gregory said...

Quote from Dominic Bnomm Tennant:

God could have created us in such a way that everyone free does what is right, and everyone goes to heaven, but didn't.

I almost daren't point this out, Victor, in case of the Obvious Police finally catch up with me, but that's true under libertarian assumptions as well.

The ontological state of libertarian freedom is the only condition, by which, humans could do "right" or "wrong". To say that "God could have created us in such a way...." is to imply soft-determinism. On the contrary, "freedom" is the only necessary, although not sufficient, condition by which God could create beings who can be and act like Him. Unless, of course, it is the case that God is not free, either. I have heard Calvinists, when pushed, tell me that God is not free....that even God, Himself, is compelled by interior causation, rather than self-directed acts.

Be that as it may, human failure to be "like" God has resulted in the loss of God's likeness, not His image....although the image is cracked, it's still intact. And, because God's image is still intact, it's still possible for mankind to be redeemed. Christ restored the brokenness of His image...but it still remains for us to be "Christ-like". God can't impute actions....otherwise, those actions would properly be ascribed to God, not men. The consequence, being, that God's will is the only will. Calvinist's usually deny that, and rightly so. Hence, they retort "God is not the author of evil". Yet, that's exactly what the Westminster Catechism implies when it says "God ordains whatsoever comes to pass". I will leave this strabismus situation for further consideration.

Just as there are no internal nor external conditions compelling and necessitating God's actions, likewise, there are no internal nor external conditions compelling and necessitating creatures in their acts, either.

The touchstone of Calvinism is not scrupulous adherence to Biblical exegesis....whatever that is supposed to mean. On the contrary, the touchstone of Calvinism is the philosophical doctrine of "universal causality" (i.e. that everything has a cause). That is the "starting-point"...that is the "presupposition"....of the Calvinist. It is the matrix, by which, the whole of Scripture must conform. For them, it's the "impossibility of the contrary".

Kuyper, Van Til, Clark, Henry, Bahnsen.....wittingly, or unwittingly, presuppose Kant. Presuppositionalism is Kantianism dressed up in Protestant Scholastic garb. The "father" of presuppositionalism is not Kuyper...it's not John Calvin, either. It's Immanuel Kant!! He is the "father" of Presuppostionalism. But, if one really wants ears to hear: I tell you that 16th Century "Protestant" Europe was, in fact, ruled by a Pope....a "father" above all these other "fathers". His name is St. Augustine.

At any rate, Van Till and Clark rejected "traditional" arguments for God's existence because they were contradictory....so did Kant. Van Til believed that God must be presupposed as a transcendental pre-condition for the rationality of morality.....so did Kant.

And while there are certainly definite and wide differences between Kant and the Calvinists over the contours of Christian doctrine, nevertheless, the parallel methodology is unmistakable and striking. Yet, few people take the time to actually read through primary source material. Calvinist's are no exception.

But Christianity is no slave to the doctrines of Kant or Calvin or Augustine.

But here's something very problematic for Calvinism. If Augustine's views of "predestination" were "Orthodox", then why it's silent absence, qua dogma, from all the Creeds and Councils of the Church, East and West, before the Reformation? Why do the vast host of Church Fathers unequivocally imply/express libertarian concepts of freedom?

I will give some examples in the next post.

Gregory said...

"Now liberty is the coming up to a state which owns no master and is self-regulating; it is that with which we were gifted by God at the beginning, but which has been obscured by the feeling of shame arising from indebtedness. Liberty too is in all cases one and the same essentially; it has a natural attraction to itself. It follows, then, that as everything that is free will be united with its like, and as virtue is a thing that has no master, that is, is free, everything that is free will be united with virtue. But, further, the Divine Being is the fountain of all virtue. Therefore, those who have parted with evil will be united with Him.....The All-creating Wisdom fashioned these souls, these receptacles with free wills, as vessels as it were, for this very purpose, that there should be some capacities able to receive His blessings and become continually larger with the inpouring of the stream."

St. Gregory of Nyssa "On the Soul and Resurrection" (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Serier, Vol. 5 pages 452,453).

“Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter (Read Jer. 18:1–10) power, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?”

Here it is not to do away with free-will that he says this, but to show, up to what point we ought to obey God. For in respect of calling God to account, we ought to be as little disposed to it as the clay is. For we ought to abstain not from gainsaying or questioning only, but even from speaking or thinking of it at all, and to become like that lifeless matter, which followeth the potter’s hands, and lets itself be drawn about anywhere he may please. And this is the only point he applied the illustration to, not, that is, to any enunciation of the rule of life, but to the complete obedience and silence enforced upon us. And this we ought to observe in all cases, that we are not to take the illustrations quite entire, but after selecting the good of them, and that for which they were introduced, to let the rest alone."

St. John Chrysostom Homily on Romans 9 (in Shaff's Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers).

"Let us then escape from the disease; for it is not possible, indeed it is not, to escape from the fire prepared for the devil, unless we get free from this sickness. But free we shall get to be if we lay to mind how Christ loved us, and also how He bade us love one another. Now what love did He show for us? His precious Blood did He shed for us when we were enemies, and had done the greatest wrong to Him. This do thou also do in thy brother’s case (for this is the end of His saying “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye so love one another as I have loved you” John 13:34)."

(ibid St. John Chrysostom Homily VII on Romans 3)

"But the audacity of men, having regard not to what is expedient and becoming, but to what is possible for it, began to do the contrary; whence, moving their hands to the contrary, it made them commit murder, and led away their hearing to disobedience, and their other members to adultery instead of to lawful procreation; and the tongue, instead of right speaking, to slander and insult and perjury; the hands again, to stealing and striking fellow-men; and the sense of smell to many sorts of lascivious odours; the feet, to be swift to shed blood, and the belly to drunkenness and insatiable gluttony. All of which things are a vice and sin of the soul: neither is there any cause of them at all, but only the rejection of better things."

St. Athanasius "Contra Gentiles"

Gregory said...

“But that you may not have a pretext for saying that Christ must have been crucified, and that those who transgressed must have been among your nation, and that the matter could not have been otherwise, I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so. So that if they repent, all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God."

St. Justin Martyr's "Dialogue with Trypho"

"A fearful thing is sin, and the sorest disease of the soul is transgression, secretly cutting its sinews, and becoming also the cause of eternal fire; an evil of a man’s own choosing, an offspring of the will. For that we sin of our own free will the Prophet says plainly in a certain place: Yet I planted thee a fruitful vine, wholly true: how art thou turned to bitterness, (and become) the strange vine. The planting was good, the fruit coming from the will is evil; and therefore the planter is blameless, but the vine shall be burnt with fire since it was planted for good, and bore fruit unto evil of its own will. For God, according to the Preacher, made man upright, and they have themselves sought out many inventions. So then the Creator, being good, created for good works; but the creature turned of its own free will to wickedness. Sin then is, as we have said, a fearful evil, but not incurable; fearful for him who clings to it, but easy of cure for him who by repentance puts it from him. For suppose that a man is holding fire in his hand; as long as he holds fast the live coal he is sure to be burned, but should he put away the coal, he would have cast away the flame also with it."

St. Cyril of Jerusalem "On Repentance and Remission of Sins, and Concerning the Adversary"

"Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians."

taken from St. Justin Martyr's Second Apology

arminianperspectives said...

Dominic,

I don't have time for a long response right now, but wanted to point out a few quick things.

First, I don't think it is true that parents naturally love their children. If this were the case we would not see the wide spread abuse that takes place in our world. We would not see woman leaving children in dumpsters either. I do think that for many parents, love for the child seems natural, but this is likely due to a series of free choices prior to the opportunity of parenting from which one gained the character by which loving his or her children seemed most natural.

Now one could say that such love or absence of love is simply "by nature" and that those natures were ours in such a way that they could not have been otherwise, but that begs the question of determinism rather than proving it.

I also find it strange that you continually seem to point to a belief in libertarian free will as so totally absurd that one needs to have e few screws loose to believe it, or must at least be terribly deceived. That seems like a very bold claim and, as Gregory points out, would put you at odds with many of the foundational thinkers of the Christian religion.

The Ante-Nicene fathers and many beyond them believed in a libertarian free will (though they didn’t call it "libertarian"). They defended it as the only means by which God could maintain a moral government. They saw it in the Scriptures and referenced many of the same Scriptures for support of the doctrine as Arminians do today. They saw determinism as a feature of Gnostic cults and made their greatest defenses for free will while arguing against the Gnostic determinists. They saw the determinism of the Gnostics as leading to making God the author of sin, and found such a thought blasphemous (just like Arminians today).

Many of these early church fathers grew up in a culture that was highly fatalistic, yet they rejected determinism on Biblical grounds (and please don't try to make a distinction between impersonal fatalism and theistic fatalism, since the culture had both, and the Gnostics held to a theistic fatalism, i.e. determinism).

All that to say that you might want to tone down the rhetoric concerning how ridiculous a belief in libertarian free will is, lest you continue to come across as someone who is extremely arrogant and overly emotional in his personal convictions (convictions that most of Christian history found to be heretical). Now it may be that so many Christian thinkers were just embarrassingly stupid, and that you and the Reformers (whose beliefs were rooted in the novel doctrines of a former Gnostic) finally got things right, but that needs to be proven and not just asserted.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

For those who are interested, I highly recommend Daniel Whedon’s critique of Edwards and determinism. You can read it free online here, or buy an edited and re-printed version here. If I may be so bold, I think Whedon demonstrates with great precision the fact that moral government is impossible in a deterministic framework, defends free will in an extremely cogent fashion, and takes Edwards and all such necessitarians to the proverbial woodshed. Enjoy.

Robert said...

Hello Gregory, [part 1]

Great posts!

Just some comments on your very well stated comments:

“The ontological state of libertarian freedom is the only condition, by which, humans could do "right" or "wrong". To say that "God could have created us in such a way...." is to imply soft-determinism.”

It is interesting that both atheists and calvinists will regularly make statements that “God could have created us in such a way . . .” in order to attack orthodox Christianity (i.e., that being the church wide belief and affirmation of LFW).


“On the contrary, "freedom" is the only necessary, although not sufficient, condition by which God could create beings who can be and act like Him.”

This is an important observation: if God desired for us to be like him, then we would need to be genuine persons with LFW, persons with their own independent minds and capacities for their own rational thought and their own decisions and actions. If our actions were completely necessitated we would lose all of that.

“Unless, of course, it is the case that God is not free, either. I have heard Calvinists, when pushed, tell me that God is not free....that even God, Himself, is compelled by interior causation, rather than self-directed acts.”

This is sad but true, they will ridicule and mock LFW until they are reminded that God Himself experiences LFW. Then rather than admitting this truth, in order to maintain their necessatarian beliefs they will then argue that God does not experience LFW (against going against church wide belief). A new evasive maneuver that I have seen is to argue that God doesn’t experience LFW, his actions are sui generis because He is God. That is a desperate ad hoc escape and cop out. If he has a choice, say between creating the universe or not creating the universe and his choice is not necessitated then he experiences LFW. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and . . .

“Be that as it may, human failure to be "like" God has resulted in the loss of God's likeness, not His image....although the image is cracked, it's still intact.”

I like that “cracked but still intact”.

Some necessatarians argue as if human persons are no longer created in the image of God as if when Adam fell it was not just cracked but eliminated!

“And, because God's image is still intact, it's still possible for mankind to be redeemed. Christ restored the brokenness of His image...but it still remains for us to be "Christ-like".”

And to be “Christ-like” we can’t be automatons or puppets, but genuine persons with LFW. Carefully examined the actions of Jesus were not necessitated but freely chosen by Him.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Gregory [part 2]

“God can't impute actions....otherwise, those actions would properly be ascribed to God, not men. The consequence, being, that God's will is the only will.”

I like that statement. God in creating us was creating a being that exists independently of Him. This does not mean that we are autonomous and sovereign, only that we are genuine individuals with our own minds, personalities, and actions.

Calvinism by claiming that all is necessitated results in a divine puppet show with God alone acting freely and everything else merely being puppets having their strings pulled. Calvinism depersonalizes man acting as if we are not genuine persons created in the image of God but mere playthings, puppets that the puppet master toys with. And if there is only one person truly acting freely, then he is responsible for everything that occurs.

“Calvinist's usually deny that, and rightly so. Hence, they retort "God is not the author of evil". Yet, that's exactly what the Westminster Catechism implies when it says "God ordains whatsoever comes to pass". I will leave this strabismus situation for further consideration.”

Exactly, if he “ordains whatsoever comes to pass” then all is necessitated all is predetermined and we again are mere puppets not genuine persons created in the image of God.

“Just as there are no internal nor external conditions compelling and necessitating God's actions, likewise, there are no internal nor external conditions compelling and necessitating creatures in their acts, either.”

Another important observation. To have LFW you not only need to have and make your own choices. Those choices cannot be necessitated by any necessitating factors (whether it be our genes, our brain, the environment, our social conditioning, our background, our nature, or God exhaustively decreeing everything that is to come to pass). God is not necessitated in his actions and neither are we.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Gregory [part 3]

“The touchstone of Calvinism is not scrupulous adherence to Biblical exegesis....whatever that is supposed to mean. On the contrary, the touchstone of Calvinism is the philosophical doctrine of "universal causality" (i.e. that everything has a cause). That is the "starting-point"...that is the "presupposition"....of the Calvinist. It is the matrix, by which, the whole of Scripture must conform. For them, it's the "impossibility of the contrary".”

I don’t think the problem is the idea that everything has a cause. I believe that to be true. Modify your wording slightly here: "universal necessitation" (i.e. that everything has a necessitating cause). That is the "starting-point"...that is the "presupposition"....of the Calvinist.”


Everything has a necessitating cause because God first conceives of a total world history (the decrees) and then he ensures that that total plan is actualized (the history of the universe). Since he directly and completely and continuously controls everything, he necessitates every event.


“Kuyper, Van Til, Clark, Henry, Bahnsen.....wittingly, or unwittingly, presuppose Kant. Presuppositionalism is Kantianism dressed up in Protestant Scholastic garb. The "father" of presuppositionalism is not Kuyper...it's not John Calvin, either. It's Immanuel Kant!! He is the "father" of Presuppostionalism.”

You are right here. When I first read Van Til (I have a Defense of the Faith first edition) I found that the term “transcendental” and the concept of determining what the preconditions that make something possible are, came straight from Kant.

“But, if one really wants ears to hear: I tell you that 16th Century "Protestant" Europe was, in fact, ruled by a Pope....a "father" above all these other "fathers". His name is St. Augustine.”

Again a good and true observation. If you look before Augustine you do not find necessatarian beliefs in the church. They are first injected into the church through Augustine and later systematized by the Reformers.

“At any rate, Van Till and Clark rejected "traditional" arguments for God's existence because they were contradictory....so did Kant. Van Til believed that God must be presupposed as a transcendental pre-condition for the rationality of morality.....so did Kant.”

Good examples, the influence of Kant is clearly present.

“And while there are certainly definite and wide differences between Kant and the Calvinists over the contours of Christian doctrine, nevertheless, the parallel methodology is unmistakable and striking. Yet, few people take the time to actually read through primary source material. Calvinist's are no exception.”

Again good point. With regards to the **methodology** that is where you really see it.

“But Christianity is no slave to the doctrines of Kant or Calvin or Augustine.”

Amen to that, preach it brother! :-)

Then you drop the theological nuclear bomb:

“But here's something very problematic for Calvinism. If Augustine's views of "predestination" were "Orthodox", then why it's silent absence, qua dogma, from all the Creeds and Councils of the Church, East and West, before the Reformation? Why do the vast host of Church Fathers unequivocally imply/express libertarian concepts of freedom?”

That observation is one of my strongest reasons for rejecting calvinism. If it were true why is it absent before Augustine? If it were true why is it rejected by the vast majority of Christians especially if you look at the church as a whole and include Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Independents. It is not in the earliest creeds and the early church Fathers before Augustine are clearly affirming what we call LFW.

Your quotes which you provided merely confirm these claims with an unmistakable exploding sound and mushroom cloud. The sound of the calvinist/necessatarian system of theology being shattered by the reality, the facts of church history.

Robert

normajean said...

The Westminster Confession understands that all things are conceived in God's intellect in eternity, are planned and ordered in time according to His wisdom, and then "fall out" (from the Westminster Confession) by His will in time as either necessary, contingent or free actions. This is the logical and real-time progression. The whole process is called Providence. Sounds almost like Molinism, Bnonn Dom. Have a feeling you don't understand your peoples history!

http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/westminster_conf_of_faith.html

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, the funny thing is that you can make this argument, but the minute I make it Christian people ask me where my objective moral standard is that allows me to do so. And I do make this same argument, just as you do. Since you can make it. I can too.

I'm not subscribing to this post. I find Calvinists the most obnoxious people on the web who repeatedly resort to ad hominems whenever they cannot make their case. And they cannot do so here.

Anonymous said...

"Good examples, the influence of Kant is clearly present."

LOL. Kant was a libertarian. LOL.

Gregory said...

Anonymous:

LOL Indeed, we all are possessed of autonomous freewill. Or maybe not. Perhaps you might explain to us, o ye elect of God, how wonderful God's Sovereighnty is in keeping you from sin. Or do you not believe that you are "dead to sin" (Romans 6:11-14)? Or, perhaps, God delights in your sins (Psalm 5:4-6). Perhaps God is impotent to remove them from you (Luke 1:37). LOL

As the Scripture says:

"God catches the crafty in their craftiness"

Which is to say, that God uses even our own "foolishness" as a means of our salvation because he is willing that none should perish (2 Pet. 3:9).

That's why I ended my post with this quote from Justin Martyr:

"Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians."

Kant was merely echoing what the Church has always taught concerning "freewill".

But the irony in this is that the Calvinist borrows from Kant things, of which, the Church has always rejected....and then rejects Kant in the things that the Church has always, unequivocally proclaimed (i.e. freewill)!!

It's interesting that Hume, Hobbes, d'Holbach, Ayer and Flew have been "strange bedfellows" to the Calvinist. Or maybe not.

To Robert:

Thank you for your kind words.

To reiterate a point:

I did mean to say that I reject "universal causality". But I didn't clarify enough of my meaning. So here goes:

When I say I reject "universal causality", I mean to say that there are some things that are not explicable in terms of operant causal laws; namely, the acts of libertarian free agents. I am even opposed to using the idea of "agent causation", except in cases where a heuristic aid becomes necessary, because it only confuses the matter.

Causality follows a sequential chain of events A-->B-->C-->D, etc., back to some primeval "cause"....presumably God. And the behavior of objects within such a chain of causation are not inherently explicable in, and of, themselves. "Objects" rely wholly upon the mediation of prior states/conditions/events for their solvency and/or actions.

This is not so with "Agents"....particularly with God, since there is nothing prior to, or above, Him. But this is true also, in a limited sense, in the case of animals and humans. There certainly are state/conditions/events prior to creaturely acts. Yet, none of those things provides any definitive, ontological "causal" linking with the agents decision making process...although there will certainly be a "logical" link between prior states of affairs and the agents acts. For instance: that John was at work on Monday, Sept. 7th 2009 because he was hired back in October of 2004 provides insight into the possibility of such an occurrence. Yet, it fails to capture "why", for instance, John did show up for work, instead of calling in sick...or even failing to show up without any prior notice. My point would be that there is no definitive answer as to "why" John did, in fact, show up for work. And I don't think John, himself, could give an adequate account of that either. But if he were to give such an account, I think you will find that his answer boils down to an inexplicable motion of the will to act.

And if we can agree that God's acts of the will are, in some sense, ex nihilo, then why should there be such skepticism towards the ability to thusly act free, in the case of mankind, whom are created as Imago Dei?

Gregory said...

I don't like the terms "agent causation" because it can easily be hijacked by the Calvinist...especially the kind of Calvinist who is quick to point out "primary" and "secondary" causation.

"You see, o Arminian wretch, that I too affirm 'Agent Causation'. We Calvinists, above everyone, affirm that agents 'cause' things because God provides the means, as well as the ends. Of course, humans act. What do you think I'm doing right now? LOL."

What the Calvinist has failed to mention, though, is that the acts of the will are moved strictly according to the dictates of whatever prior internal conditions happened to be present at the time of action; the likes, of which, the agent has absolutely no control over. The agent acts, but the agent is more like that of a conduit....a medium which simply pumps through some channel of internal causes.

And it is here, on the level of internal conditions/states, that significant problems with compatibilism begin to emerge. Often, compatibilists are fond of speaking of "desire" as the controlling cause of some agent's acts. For instance, if Bobby continues to smoke cigarettes, then his persistence in that activity is explained by his "desire for cigarettes". But if Bobby quits smoking cigarettes then, again, an appeal to "desire" is made. This time, however, the explanation for cessation is explained by a "higher desire" to quit.

As a former pack-a-day smoker I can say, with great certainty, that this is a completely bogus explanation. Smokers do not, in fact, lose their desire to smoke...at least, not for some time. For me, it was about a year. In terms of my internal states, I had an extremely strong "desire" to have another smoke. At the same time, I had an accountability partner or two, positive "reasons" to quit and circumstances that helped permit me to quit. I did, finally, quit. But it was after many failed attempts. And what I observed, within myself, were competing motives. I had the motive to enjoy another hit of nicotine....and I had the motive to get "healthy" and to save money.
I could have gone either way. But I chose, in the end, to put a long habit behind me. And it wasn't easy. But the ultimate explanation for why I quit was my own choice of "reason" over "desire".

And having gone through that sort of "internal" conflict, I have found that the compatibilist thesis is extremely shallow and out of touch with real experience. In fact, I think it's very out of touch with Pauline theology (Romans 7:14-24).

"Struggle" and "repentance" are, and will continue to be, very problematic concepts for compatibilism. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that smoking cigarettes is immoral or anything like that. My reasons for quitting were strictly pragmatic. But I suppose that a smoker who did feel that smoking was wrong would also have another help in counteracting his/her "desire" to smoke.

Anonymous said...

"But the irony in this is that the Calvinist borrows from Kant things, of which, the Church has always rejected....and then rejects Kant in the things that the Church has always, unequivocally proclaimed (i.e. freewill)!!"

Convenient. LOL.