*Sigh* I was really hoping to stay out of the soteriology debate for a while, but I guess I’ll have to write another Calvinism post. Richard Bushey recently wrote an article criticizing my moral arguments against Calvinism. I’d like to take the time right now to respond to what he wrote. First off, the whole theme of his post tends to be the very common Calvinist misconception that Arminians are judging God, or holding God morally accountable for things, that if God does certain things He’s going to have to answer to us for them. If that were what we were saying that would indeed be absurd, and Richard would be right in condemning it as nonsense. But the argument that I, Roger Olson, and virtually every other Arminian make against the god of Calvinism is that what Calvinism teaches about God logically entails conclusions (unless you’re super skilled at cognitive dissonance which many Calvinists are) which impugn His goodness. Philosophically, God being evil is logically impossible. To say “God is evil” would be like saying “This square is a circle” or “This object has no shape” or “1 + 1 = 3”. All of these are logically impossible since they deny necessary truths. That 1 +1 = 2, that squares are always square, and that all objects have shapes are necessary truths. That is to say, it is impossible for them to be false. This is why the moral objections people have against Calvinism are so strong. The teachings of Calvinism (especially universal divine determinism) logically entails things which make God a moral monster. It is impossible for God to be evil, so if Calvinism’s teachings make God evil, and God cannot be evil, then it follows that Calvinism is false.
My reasoning can be formulated in the form of a modus tollens syllogism.
1: If Calvinism were true, God would be evil.
2: God is not evil.
3: Therefore, Calvinism is not true.
Premise 2 is, as I said, a necessary truth. We know this is true from both the testimony of scripture as well as natural theology arguments like The Moral Argument and The Ontological Argument, and virtually all Christians would agree with this premise. The only debatable premise is premise 1 (and I’m honestly surprised that anyone could find premise 1 debatable once they really understand what the view teaches). I defended premise 1 in blog posts like “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Were True” and “An Unbeliever Meets The God Of Determinism”
I think it impugns His goodness for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious one stems from Calvinism’s teaching that God causally determines everything that occurs. If God determines everything that occurs, then that (i.e “everything”) would include sin, in fact, every single sin that has ever occurred in the history of mankind. If God causally determined people to sin, then it seems clear to any rational person that He would be responsible for those sins. If He were responsible for those sins, then He would be a sinner Himself, and therefore not good. But it gets even worse for Calvinism, for not only does God causally determine people to sin (i.e in His “divine decree”), but He also punishes people for the sins that He made them commit. He tortures people forever for doing evil things that He Himself essentially made them do! This is ghastly! And yet Calvinists expect me to believe that there’s justice in this somehow? Do they honestly expect people to swallow this garbage?
No Mr. Bushey, I’m not judging God. I’m not asking God to justify Himself before me, and I’m not asking God to explain Himself to me. I’m asking you and those who believe in divine determinism to provide a rational explanation for how God can literally determine (or decree) everything (including evil) to come to pass and yet not be responsible for that evil. I’m asking you to show me where the justice is in punishing sin that you brought about. If a mother took the hand of a child and made it slap another child, and proceeded to give her own child a spanking for slapping the other child, would we think that there was anything just in that? No. But if God essentially does the same thing, it’s somehow okay? In what possible world is that considered logical?
Let me reform the question to fit the compatiblist’s understanding of determinism and free will. If a mother put a special electronic helmet on her child that caused the child to desire to slap another child, and turned the helmet up to make that desire so strong that the child could do nothing but slap the other child, would the mother be justified in giving that child a spanking? Could we say the child was “free” simply because he wanted to slap the child? But of course the child wouldn’t have even wanted to slap the child if the mother hadn’t decreed that her child would desire that (via desire inducing electronic helmet) from before she even gave birth.
Well, anyway, after erroneously accusing Arminians and Molinists-on-the-Arminian-spectrum (like me) of judging God, Richard Bushey went on to explain some aspect of Calvinism, though these really are aspects of any orthodox soteriological model including Arminianism and Molinistic Arminianism, which are; “For those who do not know, Calvinism is the view that salvation is solely a work of God. Man can contribute nothing to his salvation except for the sin that made it necessary. Man is totally depraved, dead in his sin, a slave of sin (John 8:34) and therefore does not have the capacity to turn to God in righteousness (Romans 3:10). Man will not freely choose God. He hates God. The natural man does not desire God (1 Corinthians 2:14)” I agree with these statements. These are aspect of Arminianism as well. Though we believe that while man would never freely choose God in his natural state, God sends prevenient or resistible grace to all men. This enables the person and pulls them toward salvation so that they will freely choose to receive Christ as their savior, though this can be resisted. For example, when Stephen was speaking to the Sanhedrin, he told them that they were constantly resisting The Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). In John 12:32, Jesus said “And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all people to myself”. It is a widely held misconception that Arminians (and Molinists on the Arminian spectrum) do not believe in Total Depravity. We do. We just disagree on how God overcomes our stubborn and rebellious nature. The issue is whether the cure for our inability to come to Christ is a resistible grace or an irresistible grace. I defend the doctrine of prevenient or resistible grace in my blog post “Is Molinism Biblical”The Society Of Evangelical Arminians wrote about prevenient grace in an article that you can read here.—> http://evangelicalarminians.org/prevenient-grace-explained/
What Richard describes isn’t simply Calvinism, but just the doctrine of Total Depravity, which every Arminian would agree with. Richard should know that Arminians also believe in this doctrine, but for some reason he talks it as if it were a Calvinist exclusive doctrine. I thought he knew better, but maybe he needs to spend more time reading Arminian writings. “Whosoever Will” is a pretty good book, but I’d also suggest “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach” by Kenneth Keathley since I’m not simply Arminian but a Molinist. Keathley in that book defends the doctrine that Jesus died for all people, that God wants all people saved, and that grace is resistible while also affirming total depravity, meticulous providence of God over world events, and eternal security. He also defends a view called “Soft Libertarian Free Will”, and he defends the doctrine of middle knowledge. Quite frankly, there’s nothing in that book I disagree with. It’s essentially a whole book that represents my soteriological view. So check it out.
Richard’s post goes on to tell the story of Job. The moral of the story is that God always has good reasons for whatever He does, even if we don’t understand at the time. I agree. This is why when I suffer, I assume God must have some morally sufficient reason for permitting it to occur.
Richard says in his post “Does God owe us salvation? Undergirding these objections seems to be the assumption that God owes salvation to mankind.” Do I think God owes us salvation? No. No I do not. In fact, in my blog post “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Were True” I explicitly say that God does not.
In that blog post, I wrote: ”Calvinists often say “God is under No obligation to save anyone.” I understand that God is not obligated to save anybody. I agree with that. I would agree that if God decided to never send Jesus to die on the cross to atone for our sins, and if He sent every human He ever created into the firey pits of Hell that He would be perfectly good and just to do so. God is under no obligation whatsoever to provide a way for us to be saved. The only reason He died on the cross is because He loves us. God loves us and that’s why He wants us to spend eternity with Him. However, Calvinist doctrine doesn’t merely state that God chooses not to rescue individuals. It teaches that He got them into that mess to begin with! Remember, Calvinists are divine determinists. They agree with the Westminister confession that everything was ordained by God and everything that comes to pass is according to His will! What this means is that the very fall of Adam and Eve was ordained by God. Adam had no choice but to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It was impossible for Him to do otherwise (and this is the case even if you affirm a compatiblist understanding of freedom). Eve likewise had no other option but to disobey God. And whenever you do something wrong, according to divine determinists, God had ordained you to commit that sin!”
Anyway, my objection isn’t that God doesn’t choose to save everyone (on the Calvinist view), my objection is that God punishes people for sins that He Himself determined them to do. If people fell into sin freely, and God said “Okay, I’m only going to save some of you”, I wouldn’t take issue with that, since everyone else would be getting exactly what they deserve. I mean, I would still take issue with it on scriptural grounds (since scripture is explicit that God wants all saved and died for all in about 15 different places), but I wouldn’t have issue with it on moral grounds. But that isn’t the case on Calvinism. On Calvinism, God determined the sin for which He is condemning the sinner to Hell for. This is obviously the ultimate entrapment!
Richard went on to quote me as saying ““So, not only does God choose not to save some people, but He is the reason that they’re sinners to begin with (according to Calvinists who believe in Divine Determinism)! How in the world could God possibly hold anyone accountable for sins that they commit if it’s His fault that they committed the sin to begin with?” and said in response to what I wrote “This charge amounts to saying that God owes us a chance to do something different. God owes his creatures the ability to choose righteousness.” – To this, I say that I am simply saying that if God is going to punish someone, it had better be their own fault that they did what they did. They should be the originators of their own sin, and have an opportunity to do the opposite. I believe that Adam and Eve did not have to eat the forbidden fruit. I believe they could have told the serpent to buzz off. They didn’t, and God punished them by casting them out of the garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). But what if God causally determined them to eat the forbidden fruit? Would he be just in punishing them? I have a hard time seeing how he could be, since it would be His fault they sinned. Common sense dictates that God could only be just if Adam and Eve were the originators of their actions, and were able to to do otherwise.
The biggest problem I have with Calvinists on this issue is that they refuse to give good reasons or clarification on how determinism doesn’t render God the author of sin. They just appeal to mystery whenever pressed on it. Forgive me if I take this as indication that there probably are no good answers to this objection. I have no problem of giving God the benefit of the doubt when He does things I don’t understand, but some things aren’t merely mysteries. Some things are patently, obviously, blatantly nonsense. To say that God can causally determine every move I make and not be responsible for what I do is akin to saying that a man can put pants on and still be naked. And that’s essentially what Richard’s post is; it’s one very long appeal to mystery.
Let’s get something clear; I’m not convinced by appeals to mysteries. If I pressed an atheist (and I often do) on how objective morality could exist in a world without God, and he responded to me “I don’t know. They just somehow do”, I wouldn’t be moved to believe that a world without God could still contain objective moral values. I would require an argument, a reason, for how morality can exist in an atheistic universe. And this is what I require of the Calvinist when he makes the asinine claim that God can decree evil to occur and not be responsible for the evil that occurs. I am willing to change my mind, but I need a reason, not an appeal to mystery. Just as I would require an argument from an atheist to believe an atheistic universe isn’t morally nil.
Richard also argued in his article that I was being inconsistent since I also made some appeals to mysteries on occasions. Yes, I simply accepted that it was a mystery why God would choose to create a world with millions of years of animal death prior to the creation of Adam and Eve. I also think it’s a mystery when specific instances of suffering afflict our lives (why, oh why did God allow me to catch a cold last week?). There will be mysteries in any theology. There are mysteries even in scientific theories! But again, some things aren’t mysteries. It’s not a mystery to say “A man can put pants on and still be naked”. It would be a mystery if you said “The man made his pants disappear by throwing them into the air” (maybe he’s a magician or something). The former is obvious nonsense, the latter is a genuine mystery. If you said “Fire can be frozen like solid water and yet it’s still hot” that would be patent nonsense. But to say “Fire turned water into steam”, if you were a primitive person who didn’t understand how that worked out scientifically, that would be a mystery to you.
Some things aren’t mysteries, some things are clear nonsense. This is one of them. A mystery would be how God can be 3 persons yet 1 God, or how God could possibly know the future, or how demons are able to possess their victims, or how the immaterial soul and the material mind interact. God causing people to do evil and yet not being responsible for evil; That’s not a mystery. That’s nonsense. You might as well assert that a man who puts pants on is still naked. The ultimate difference between God allowing Job to suffer and the compatibility of determinism and the goodness of God is that one is an actual mystery while the other is just nonsense that’s been labeled mystery by Calvinists so they don’t have to defend their view.
Richard then cites a portion of my article “An Unbeliever Meets The God Of Determinism (Satire)” and says “As you can see, in this dialogue, the unbeliever has the upperhand, and all God has to say is, “Don’t question me.” God’s response is clearly supposed to be taken as inadequate, for he needs to be able to explain himself to this unbeliever. Well, let’s suppose for a moment that God did explain himself. God answered all of the unbelievers questions, emitting wisdom that we just do not understand. If that were to come to pass, that would entail that we should have just trusted in him during this life.”
The thing is; if the unbeliever received good responses, he would just shut up. Like I would. The unbeliever in my fictional conversation, if given good reasons by God would say “Oh, I see. That makes sense.” and if Calvinists would actually bother to defend their deterministic views with satisfying answers (instead of immediately punting to mystery), I would too. I would shut up and delete all blog posts like this on the subject matter. But sadly, no good reasons to believe that determinism doesn’t make God the author of sin are anywhere to be found.
I’m not surprised that Richard’s post hasn’t alleviated the objections I have to universal divine causal determinism. Calvinists can only paper over their nonsense with appeals to mystery. I expected as much.
To be good apologists, we must give good reasons for why our views (ALL our views) make sense. Paul Copan, when he wrote his book “Is God A Moral Monster” didn’t merely write on one page “I guess God had a good reason for these odd things He did and commanded in the Old Testament that seem to impugn His goodness. You should just trust him. Who are you to talk back to God?” No. He wrote a couple hundred pages addressing these objections in great detail. I can only imagine how Calvinists deal with these objections when Atheists and other unbelievers bring them up in conversation. Probably not in the brilliant way Copan does. Geeze. Why don’t we just give up apologetics altogether and just run around telling people to “have faith” like the fideists do.
Moreover, one of the things I would like to point out is the extreme irony here. Richard seems to be blaming me for thinking universal divine causal determinism impugns God’s goodness. But if Calvinism is true and God really does determine my actions, then I am not truly responsible for why I hold the opinions that I do; God is. God decreed from eternity past that I would believe that universal causal divine determinism would render God a moral monster just as He decreed that Richard would write his post criticizing me for it. Richard is behaving as if I could have done otherwise, but I really couldn’t have done otherwise if universal divine determinism is true. If universal divine causal determinism is true, this was fate!
Ironically, Richard has no grounds for holding me responsible for thinking determinism impugns God’s goodness if determinism is in fact true, so his rebuke is self defeating. Don’t blame me, blame God. I couldn’t do otherwise. I am merely His puppet. Moreover, It would seem that by judging me, Richard is, by extension, judging God, since I wouldn’t believe as I do had God not determined me to believe as such. He’s questioning God’s will by saying that such a thing should not be so. He thinks a portion of God’s eternal decree should not have come to pass. How dare he!
Richard then takes me to task for saying that I hate the god of Calvinism. While I will admit that I used to say that, I don’t say that anymore. I cannot hate someone who doesn’t exist. The ugly god of Calvinism does not exist, and his existence is in fact logically impossible. I cannot hate calvi-god anymore than I can hate Allah. A God who causes sin is a God who does not and cannot exist. For me to say ““I feel that, if Calvinism were true, I’d rather be in Hell, separated from such a cruel icy hearted puppet master of a God” is akin to me saying that “If Islam were true, I’d rather be in Hell separated from Allah”. So, I have evolved on my view of this issue a little bit, but I still think that the doctrine of universal causal divine determinism is logically incompatible with the biblical doctrine that God is morally perfect. The “I hate the god of Calvinism” statement is the only one I truly retract from my article.
In retrospect, the article “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Were True” should really be titled “Why Calvinism Is Logically Impossible”.
Is This An Issue Of Not Trusting God?
Do I not trust God simply because I think universal divine causal determinism and the goodness of God are logically incompatible teachings? This is what Richard is implying, and this is what Richard has explicitly told me on several occasions when we’ve talked about this subject. This is why he uses the book of Job and the mystery 1)in this case, an actual, legitimate mystery of why God allowed Job to go through all of the things that he went through. God had his reasons for allowing Job to suffer and Job and his friends should have trusted him instead of accusing Job and especially God of injustice. I do not think my conclusion that universal divine causal determinism and God’s goodness being logically incompatible at all suggests any lack of piety or faith on my part. In fact, I think it proves just the opposite. It’s because I so strongly believe in the goodness of God that I reject such a ridiculous (and dare I say; blasphemous) view.
Here’s an analogy. If someone came up to me and said my brother 2)I don’t have a brother, but I’ll invent one for the sake of the argument murdered 100 innocent people, what would I conclude? That he’s evil? Well, that certainly would be the conclusion I would reach if he actually did such a thing. But I would object “No! He would never do such a thing! He’s a good person! He would never kill 100 innocent people!” Do I lack trust in my brother? No. While I strongly hold that if he did such a thing, he would be evil, I reject that statement as being true because I believe just as strongly in my brother’s goodness.
Now, granted, that’s not a perfect analogy. Unlike God, my brother isn’t morally perfect and his being a bad person isn’t logically impossible, and also God has a right to call people home to the afterlife while we don’t (Job 1:21), but I think it’s a good enough analogy because it shows that the reason I reject the statement “Evan’s brother killed 100 innocent people” as being true is because if it were true, it would entail that my brother was evil. But I believe strongly that “My brother is a kind hearted and good man”. I trust my brother so strongly that any statement that casts him in a bad light is unthinkable.
Now, if a good reason could be given for thinking my brother could have done that and still be a good man in spite of it 3)like if the people he killed were zombies or aliens in disguise who were going to enslave or exterminate mankind well, that would be a different story. Likewise, if one can show me that God can causally determine evil, punish the agents he determined to commit the evil for all eternity, and yet not be responsible for the evil which he caused, then I will gladly retract every statement I’ve ever made about determinism impugning God’s goodness. Until then, I’m retaining my opinion.
By the way, before I finish off this blog post, I’d like to tell you what happened earlier today. I got mad at my puppets earlier because they wouldn’t do what I said. I’m going to flog them later severely. Wait? What’s that you say? That doesn’t make sense? Well, it’s a mystery. Just trust me. I have my reasons. You’d better not darken council by words without knowledge. 😛
Disclaimer: No puppets were harmed prior to or after the writing of this blog post. Evan is kind to all his puppets, and was only making a rhetorical point.