Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reply to Pike on God and Morality in Calvinism

Peter Pike claims that I haven't done the job of defining goodness. Let's have a look at his own attempt to do so.

1. God exists with certain attributes that make up His nature.
2. God's nature determines how He acts, what He wills, etc.
3. God gives general commands to us, based on His nature.
4. God is immutable.
5. Logically, then, God's general commands will not change. They are what they are.

I argue that for us good is doing what God commands us to do, and evil is not doing so (including acts of comission or omission; that is, doing what you shouldn't do or NOT doing what you should do are both evil).That means we only have to concern ourselves with the commands of God.

At the risk of becoming tiresome, I would have to ask what definition of God we are working with here? If God is a being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, then but something is good if it is in accordance with the commands of God, we have a problem.

In my view moral obligation is created by the fact that God creates us with an intended purpose which is identical to our good, in that we as humans flourish if we fulfill that purpose. Further, God acts in a way that is consistent with the pursuit of that good for all his creatures. Our good is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, evil is what gets in the way of that.

On Calvinist theory there is a large gap between what makes God's character good, and what makes us good, a gap that cannot be explained in terms of a difference in God's wisdom or knowledge. A native may believe that men in white coats bearing long needles are mean to little kids because he lacks knowledge that the men in the white coats possess, but the standard of goodness for natives and for missionary doctors is the same. Both the native and the doctor want the child to be well, and for the child not to suffer, but they have different ideas as to how to go about it. Piper seems concerned to respond to the charge that God's interest in his glory makes him selfish, since selfishness is a vice amongst humans. If I were to read on someone's tombstone "He pursued his own glory single-mindedly throughout his life" I don't think I would think I was looking at the grave of someone I wish I had known. Glory hogs in basketball don't help the team win.

It seems to me that when you say God gives commands based on his nature, it is pretty clear that we don't have obligations to reflect all aspects of God's moral nature in our own conduct. We might be rightly wrathful when someone we love is raped, but we aren't supposed to be looking for or artifically creating opportunities for us to exercise our attribute of being wrathful at evil, (maybe by creating androids who commit crimes so that we can punish them for those crimes) as if there was some aspect of us that is going to go unfulfilled if we are fortunate enough never to be in a position where that sort of wrath is called for. So while divine commands are supposed to be based on the divine nature, the kind of people we are commanded to be fails to fully reflect the character of God, and there are actions on the part of God which are deemed right which, if parallel actions are performed by humans, they would contravene the commands of God.

21 comments:

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

At the risk of becoming tiresome, I would have to ask what definition of God we are working with here?

Um, good heavens Victor, we're working with the definition, "the God of the Bible".

If God is a being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good

God is not a platonic form. He isn't some philosophical construct. You've been playing in your ivory tower for too long.

but something is good if it is in accordance with the commands of God, we have a problem.

No kidding. Are you trying to imply that God's goodness is defined by our own understanding of that term? What are you, Socrates? You sound like you're trying to use Euthyphro's Dilemma—an argument typically leveled against Christianity—without even having the basic competence to know what that Dilemma is, or how Christians respond to it.

If I were to read on someone's tombstone "He pursued his own glory single-mindedly throughout his life" I don't think I would think I was looking at the grave of someone I wish I had known.

It genuinely doesn't make sense to you that a maximally excellent being would be doing something maximally excellent in pursuing the end of exercising his maximally excellent qualities, does it? You couch everything in terms of your personal understanding of "goodness", while ignoring that the Bible describes God as holy—an attribute of which goodness is just one element.

So while divine commands are supposed to be based on the divine nature, the kind of people we are commanded to be fails to fully reflect the character of God

If you were capable of constructing an honest and fair analogy, you'd see that there are, in fact, human judicial authorities which reflect God's attributes of justice, wrath...and even mercy.

Peter Pike said...

Reppert said:
---
Peter Pike claims that I haven't done the job of defining goodness. Let's have a look at his own attempt to do so.
---

I will respond fully later, but must note in passing that your responding to my definition of goodness is not itself a definition of "good", leaving me with the obvious rejoinder that the reason you've never provided a definition of "good" is because you have no definition of "good." Even if my definition is flat out wrong, and even if you did actually argue against it effectively, that would in no way suffice to establish the definition of "good" for you to use. So you'd still be at square one, and I'd still be waiting for your to actually define your terms like, you know, you're supposed to do.

Victor Reppert said...

It's in the second paragraph. Good is achieved when anything fulfils its natural purpose. In a universe governed by a good being, the natural purpose of something and God's intended purpose for it are always the same. When it flourishes, God's will is satisfied. God's loving something means that his purpose for it and its good are identical.

Victor Reppert said...

Bnonn: No, I'm not Socrates, I'm Wittgenstein. Words have meaning in accordance with their use in natural language. That's human language, invented by us. If God wants to engage in special revelation, he's got to speak in our langauge. We look at paradigm cases of how words are used. You can't do a humpty-dumpty and call glory a nice knock-down argument.

Victor Reppert said...

Wrath is a remedial response to an unacceptable situation on the part of someone who loves another. Loving parents don't say "I hope Johnny does something bad today so I can paddle his rear end." (Oops, I forgot, corporal punishment is supposed to be bad these days). Ever hear the phrase "This hurts me more than it hurts you?"

Wrath can be good, but it is a remedial good, not an intrinsic good. It would always be better for there to be nothing to be wrathful about.

Victor Reppert said...

How Christians respond to the Euthyphro dilemma? I know how Aquinas responded. I know how Lewis responded. I know how Gordon H. Clark responded. Christians respond in different ways. Even Calvinists respond in different ways.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Good is achieved when anything fulfils its natural purpose.

That seems highly arbitrary, and problematic to your own arguments. By that view, a god who created people for the natural purpose of being tortured eternally is good. Since God determines teleology, your definition of goodness doesn't seem to draw any meaningful distinction between God and the devil, except perhaps with regard to power. If Satan were omnipotent, his works would be good under your view. Indeed, even without omnipotence it isn't clear under your definition that something naturally intended for evil isn't "good" by merit of fulfilling its natural purpose. And you have the audacity to complain about voluntarism?

Words have meaning in accordance with their use in natural language.

Which disqualifies your definition of goodness. No one defines good as a situation where "anything fulfils its natural purpose". That isn't what "good" means in natural language.

Wrath is a remedial response to an unacceptable situation on the part of someone who loves another.

That just begs the question in favor of your limp-wristed, nancy-boy view of justice.

Wrath can be good, but it is a remedial good, not an intrinsic good.

Are you denying that wrath is an attribute of holiness? Holiness is, after all, intrinsically good. But even granting this premise, if wrath can be good, say in situation S, then a possible world in which S obtains realizes a good which remains unrealized in another world without S.

It would always be better for there to be nothing to be wrathful about.

Given S, that's far from clear; if not blatantly self-contradictory.

Tor Hershman said...

I've wrapped-up all the gods/devils in this one lill' video....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m6qC6FCiY0

Gordon Knight said...

There are still those of us whot think that good is a simple, non-natural, indefinable property.

Just sayin'

bossmanham said...

Notice what Dbonn does. He asserts you're wrong and attacks you ad hominem-ly, but never provides a counter argument. He only asserts you are wrong.

What's the matter, Dbonn? Can't provide your own perspective?

Steven said...

If good for an object is for it to fulfill its purpose, then it is good that all reprobates are damned; it is good that the car crash God intended to happen, did happen; and so on.

Steven said...

Furthermore, if Calvinism is true, then there is no evil at all, because everything that God intended to happen does happen.

bossmanham said...

Steven,

You're assuming that reprobation is the purpose of certain people. But even the Calvinistic Westminster Catechism says differently. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Reprobation doesn't accomplish that end.

bossmanham said...

Furthermore, if Calvinism is true, then there is no evil at all, because everything that God intended to happen does happen.

It always gives me pause to see consistent Calvinism at work. Abortion isn't evil, eh? God intended the rape and murder of little girls, eh?

God said in Jeremiah 32:35:

"And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin."

Steven said...

(1) I was accepting VR's definition of what good is, not my own.
(2) Reprobates do glorify God. Steve Hays wrote on this recently.

bossmanham said...

God is glorified in His justice being carried out, but God is more glorified when sinners are saved through faith in Christ.

Joshua said...

I am pretty sure that Calvinist bloggers are a conspiracy by the Roman Catholics to discredit Protestantism.

bossmanham said...

Joshua,

Haha. I know, right?

Steven said...

Brennon,

I'm not sure how you know that. And obviously not having everyone be saved is good enough for God, so it's good enough for me.

LouisJ-B said...

Joshua said:

"I am pretty sure that Calvinist bloggers are a conspiracy by the Roman Catholics to discredit Protestantism."

Two words.Church!...History!;-)

bossmanham said...

I'm not sure how you know that. And obviously not having everyone be saved is good enough for God, so it's good enough for me.

It was pretty obviously a tongue in cheek statement. And yes, if God allows people to reject Him in favor of hell, that's okay with me too.