It seems that more Calvinists are becoming aware of my Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism. The argument was formulated on my part out of a frustration to convince Calvinists that God loves all people, wants all people to be saved, and desires salvation for all people. It doesn’t matter how many passages you point to that assert this in plain English (and plain Greek for that matter), they will find a way to twist them all to mean something other than what any objective interpreter would take them to mean. so John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” is taken to mean that God loves the “world of the elect” and whoever of the elect believes will have eternal life. 1 Timothy 2:4 which says “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” is taken to mean that God wants all different types of people to be saved (some Jews and some Gentiles, some Americans, some Israelis, some of the Chinese, some of the Japanese, and so on). Now, there a biblical passages where reducing “world” to “world of the elect” and “all people” to “all kinds of people” won’t work, and I talked about these in my blog post “5 Biblical Texts That Calvinists Can’t Wiggle Out Of”. Alas, the post was poorly named as bloggers such as Tony Lee Ross Jr. and Kevin Courter have shown that if you try hard enough, you can even manage to get out of these. See here, here, here, and here.
It seems as though The Bible is ineffective at getting Calvinists to see the truth. Anything can be bent and distorted in such a way as to be shoehorned into the T.U.L.I.P system. That’s what lead me to formulate a different approach. The Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism.
Unfortunately for the longest time, I didn’t get any interaction from the Calvinists on this argument. But here recently, two Calvinist bloggers have written responses to it. Jim Boucher wrote an article responding to it, and that be read by clicking here. But Ed Dingess of Reformed Reasons also responded to it. Let’s see if he does a good job. You can click here to read Dingess’ argument in its entirety.
Objection To Premise 1 – Issues With Establishing Perfect Being Theology. The Ontological Argument.
Mr. Dingess wrote “
The game is rigged from the very beginning because it pretends to separate God from God’s attributes and then uses those attributes to “prove” God. In other words, it is impossible to come up with the idea of a maximally great being without already having an idea of what that being looks like. And this idea is certainly informed by the Christian view of God. It takes God, separates his attributes, and then uses those attributes to prove God. I call foul.”1
Here, right off the bat, Mr. Dingess makes a philosophical boner. He shows absolutely no understanding of Perfect Being Theology or how one concludes that Perfect Being Theology is true. One could hold to Perfect Being Theology without being a proponent of any version of The Ontological Argument For God’s Existence whatsoever. However, if any version of The Ontological Argument is sound, it not only proves that God exists, but it proves that a Perfect Being or A Maximally Great Being (MGB) exists.
The Ontological Argument is a good argument both for the truth of theism and for Perfect Being Theology. The argument starts by defining a Maximally Great Being. What is a Maximally Great Being? A Maximally Great Being is a being who has all properties that, if someone possessed those properties, they would be a greater person than they would be if they lacked those properties. These are called “great-making properties”. If a property would make a person great if he had it, then a Maximally Great Being will have that property. Moreover, a Maximally Great Being, by definition is maximally great, not just sort of great. Ergo, a Maximally Great Being will not only possess all great-making properties but will possess those properties to the greatest extent metaphysically possible. So, what are great making properties? I think we could all agree that certain properties are pretty obviously great. For example, power, knowledge, love, presence, goodness, are great properties to have. That’s why people throughout history have pursued these through various means. A Maximally Great Being will have at least these properties to the greatest exient. This means an MGB will be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, and morally perfect. Moreover, I think it’s intuitively clear that a being who exists necessarily is greater than a being who exists contingently. So an MGB, if He exists, exists necessarily.
The Modal Ontological Argument also uses the term “Possible Worlds”. A possible world is just an exhaustive list of logically possible states of affairs that could have obtained. One of these lists of the way things could have been will be a list of the way things really are. In other words, of all possible worlds, one of them is the actual world.
The argument is as follows:
1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists.
2: If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world.
3: If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4: If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5: If a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world, a Maximally Great Being exists.
6: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being exists.
Most atheist philosophers will great premises 2-6. Where they aim their guns is at premise 1. This is because if you grant premise 1, the rest of the argument logically follows. What is meant in premise 1 by “It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists” is that an MGB is a coherent concept that could possibly exist. The statement shouldn’t be confused with epistemic possibility (i.e “It’s possible that an MGB exists and it’s possible that an MGB doesn’t”). No, what is meant by premise 1 is that an MGB is a logically coherent concept, and because it’s a logically coherent concept, a Maximally Great Being could possibly exist.
Premise 2 is true by definition. If something is logically or metaphysically possible, then there is a possible world in which it exists, regardless of whether or not it exists in the actual world. Unicorns, ogres, Pokemon ORAS with The Battle Frontier, don’t exist in the actual world, but they do exist in some possible worlds because they’re not incoherent concepts. If God is truly a coherent concept, then He exists in a possible world.
Premise 3 is a premise I used to take issue with. It doesn’t seem clear that just because something obtains in one possible world, that it therefore obtains in all of them. However, if you think about it, this makes sense. Given that we’ve defined an MGB as a necessary being, then if an MGB exists in some possible world, it will exist in all of them. It’s impossible for necessary things to be true or exist in one possible world, but not others. Philosophers say that mathematical truths like 2 + 2 = 4 are necessary truths. If the answer to an equation is 4, it necessarily equals 4. If it does not equal 4, it necessarily does not equal 4. Whatever the answer to an equation is, it will be true in all possible worlds including the actual world. It is logically impossible for 2 + 2 to = 4 in some possible worlds, but not others. Not if a being has necessity as His mode of existence, then He can’t just exist in some possible worlds, but not others. Now, by “necessary existent” and “necessary truths”, I mean things that cannot possibly be otherwise. Something that necessarily exists cannot possibly not exist. Necessary truths cannot possibly be false. So, modus ponens and other rules of logic are logically sound in all possible worlds. There is no possible world where the laws of logic don’t work or cease to exist.
Premise 4 is just axiomatic. If something exists in all possible worlds, then obviously it exists in the actual world. The actual world is a possible world?
From these, 5 and 6 follow. A Maximally Great Being exists. God exists. Perfect Being theology is true. If you want to see atheistic objections to this argument, click here.
Notice what I did here. I did not “separate God from God’s attributes and then uses those attributes to ‘prove’ God.” that doesn’t even make sense. Rather, I defined a Maximally Great Being, and then used modal logic to show that the very possibility that a Maximally Great Being could exist logically entails that He actually does exist. There was no separation of God from His attributes or using the attributes of God to prove God exists. I went from (1) defining what a Maximally Great Being is, (2) discerning what properties are great making properties, (3) using modal logic to demonstrate that the possible instantiation of 1 logically entails the actual instantiation of 1. Ed Dingess simply doesn’t understand how The Ontological Argument works.
Objection To Premise 1 – Why Think A Maximally Great Being Would Love All People?
Ed Dingess wrote
“The problem enters immediately in #1. The argument presupposes something it does not bother to prove, i.e., that a maximally great being would be the sort of being that would love all people. Why would we make this assumption? Does the Bible teach that one of the necessary conditions for being a maximally great being is loving all people? Would a maximally great being truly love Adolph Hitler? If so, what would that love look like? Wouldn’t a maximally great being hate truly evil men who only set their intentions of power and hurting others.”2
This shows yet another misunderstanding on Dingess’ part. I didn’t “presuppose that a Maximally Great Being would be the sort of being that would love all people”. I argued for it! I argued for it on the basis of intuition. It seems intuitively clear to me that a God who loves all people is greater than a being who loves some people. I take intuitions to be legitimate paths to knowledge. We are justified in going with our intuitions unless and until a defeater comes along. What’s a defeater? A defeater is some argument or evidence that shows your intuition about X was wrong. We can think of evidentially disproven intuitions such as the intuition that the sun revolved around the Earth, for example. That intuition is no longer justified because scientific evidence shows that it’s wrong. But unless you have some overriding evidence, I think you are perfectly justified in going with them.
However, as I said in response to another Calvinist blogger, I think a stronger argument can be given in defense of premise 1.
1: A Maximally Great Being has all great-making properties to the greatest extent possible.
2: Love is a great-making property.
3: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being has love to the greatest extent possible.
4: Loving all individuals is necessary for love to be at it’s greatest extent possible.
5: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being would love all individuals.
Step 3 follows from 1 and 2. Conclusion (5) follows from 3 and 4. Premise 1 is true by definition. The very definition of a Maximally Great Being is to have all great-making properties to their greatest extent (even if we dispute what those great-making properties are). I don’t think Calvinists would want to deny 2. That seems patently unbiblical if anything else (and as for non-Christians, well, this argument isn’t aimed at them anyway). The Bible certainly seems to support the idea that love is a great-making property. Why else would Jesus and Paul preach to us to be loving so emphatically – even to the point of loving our enemies!?
Premise 2 is also intuitively obvious, so it should convince even the non-Christian on that ground at least. But if it doesn’t, the Calvinist should at least affirm it, lest he be asserting the unbiblical notion there’s nothing great about being loving! And even if there are people who would argue that their intuition tells them that God does not love all people, that’s fine. I’m not arguing at this stage of the argument that an MGB must be all-loving. Regarding premise 2, we simply need to affirm that love is a great-making property (regardless of its depth or extent). And I certainly have never met anyone who thinks that someone who has no love whatsoever for anyone is a great person, at least morally speaking.3
Now, in case one does happen to have an intuition to the contrary, first I would have to ask them “what the heck is wrong with you?” But then, I guess they just won’t be convinced by this argument unless they’re a Christian and believe the Bible. But I don’t think that this premise is going to get a whole lot of pushback.
Given the truth of premises one and two, it follows that a Maximally Great Being has love to the greatest extent possible.
What about premise 4? Well, I think it’s rather obvious that the greatest extent possible would be to love all people to an infinite extent. I take the truth of this premise to be more than just intuitive, I take it to be axiomatic. If someone loves some individuals, but not others, we can imagine a being who has a greater magnitude of love than that. Namely, one who loves all people. A Being who loves all people has a much more widely encompassing degree of love than someone who is just selectively loving.
Moreover, a being who loves all individuals to the deepest extent is greater than
(1) A being who loves some people to the deepest extent,
(2) A being who loves all people to a less-than-deepest extent
(3) is greater than one who loves no one at all to any extent.
Ergo, I still hold that the Omni benevolence of God logically follows from perfect being theology. Ergo, any theology that denies that God is omni-benevolent denies that God is a Maximally Great Being.
From the truth of the premises, the conclusion follows. The conclusion of this argument is actually the first premise of the Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism. Now, Dingess asks “Would a maximally great being truly love Adolph Hitler? If so, what would that love look like?” In light of what I just said, yes a Maximally Great Being would love Adolf Hitler. What would that look like? Oh, I don’t know. Dying a slow torturous death on a cross to atone for His sins and then giving him years and years to repent? Sending Him prevenient grace? Just a thought.
Dingess asks “Wouldn’t a maximally great being hate truly evil men who only set their intentions of power and hurting others?” In light of the defense I’ve given for premise 1 (and this doesn’t even count the mountains of biblical evidence), I would say no. Moreover, what does he mean by “truly evil men”? Aren’t we all evil to some extent or another? This is what Romans 3:23 and Psalm 14:2-4 emphatically say. We’re all sinners? Isn’t one the items of the T.U.L.I.P acronym Total Depravity (which I agree with, by the way)? If Ed Dingess thinks it’s illogical for an MGB to love people who do bad things, then Dingess must assert that God hates ALL people, even his children (we are “justified, yet simultaneously sinners” as Martin Luther put it after all). But this makes no sense. If God hates all people? Why would God die on the cross for all people? Doesn’t Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 4
The Ontological Argument Doesn’t Prove The Christian God
Ed Dingess wrote
“Moreover, Anselm’s argument does not demonstrate that the Christian God exists even if you buy his ontological argument. The same is true for Plantinga’s modal version and any other argument based on natural theology. None of them accomplish their goal.”
Responding to this point is beyond the scope of this blog post. Here, I would just defer Dingess to my book The Case For The One True God: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Case For The God Of Christianity. If he takes the time to read it, I think he’ll find that no one but Christians can use The Ontological Argument. His statement is false. The logical law of the indiscernibility of identicals points to Yahweh Elohim being the MGB The Ontological Argument proves exists.
Objection To Premise 3: If Jesus Died For All Of Humanity’s Sins, Why Are Some Of Humanity Still Going To Be Judged?
Ed Dingess wrote
“Now, #3 is probably the most troubling of the propositions. If one is evangelical, it means they subscribe to a penal-substitutionary atonement. The last I checked, if you rejected this view of the atonement, you were not considered evangelical. That being the case, if it is true that God must atone for the sins of all men without exception in order if he truly desires that they be saved, then God must not desire all men to be saved. The reason men are NOT saved is that they will come to the judgment seat still guilty of sin. But if God atoned for your sins, you are no longer guilty of sin. God bore your guilt at the cross. He took your guilt away. You are no longer guilty. God now has NO legal basis to judge your guilty of sin and to sentence you to eternal punishment.”
This is basically a version of The Double Payment argument which says if Jesus died for Hitler’s sins, yet Hitler still went to Hell, then God is punishing Hitler’s sins twiceover and ergo injustice is being done.
First, this doesn’t actually refute any premise of the argument, but it could potentially present theological difficulties if, like myself, you are not a universalist. But the universalist can use The Maximally Great Argument against Calvinism just as much as The Arminian can. The argument by itself leaves it an open question as to whether God will get what He wants (the salvation of all people).
But what if, like myself, you are not a universalist. Do you have to become one or else reject this argument? I don’t think so. There are several problems with The Double Payment Argument and I go through several of them in my blog post titled “Responding To The Double Payment Argument”. I’ll just mention one here. The death of Christ did not automatically transfer salvation to everyone whom it was intended for even on The Calvinist system! No matter what your soteriology, no one believes that they were saved the moment Christ uttered “It is finished” and breathed his last.
Now, if Ed Dingess wants to affirm that, then he has to say that there was never a time in his entire life that he was under the wrath of God! There was never a time in his life when he wasn’t forgiven! When he was estranged from God, living in sin, he was actually right with God, reconciled to Him through the blood of Christ. This is logically absurd and theologically aberrant. Surely, before I confessed Christ I was not reconciled to Christ.
Paul didn’t believe we came into the world already saved. He wrote to the Ephesian church that “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:8-13, emphasis mine).
The Apostle Paul believed and wrote under inspiration of The Holy Spirit that prior to placing our faith in Christ, we are alienated from Christ, are without God, and have no hope! It’s only by being saved by faith through grace that we are “brought near by the blood of Christ”.
The Bible says “that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).
In the book of Acts, we read “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’” (Acts 16:29-31).
To modify an illustration from Billy Graham, to ask “If Christ died for all, why aren’t all sins paid for” is like asking “If everyone is given a bar of soap, why isn’t everyone clean?” Because the blood of Christ, like soap, must be applied if it’s to make a difference in our eternity. You can have soap offered to you, but if that soap is left unapplied, you’re not coming clean. If the blood of Christ is not applied by faith, we’re not coming clean. And if we aren’t clean, then God certainly has a legal basis to condemn us.
The debt for sin is paid because of two things 1) Jesus died in our place. (2) The blood of Jesus was applied by faith. For the elect, both criteria are in place. For the non-elect, only the first is in place. Jesus technically only paid the debt for the sins of the elect, but that doesn’t mean the atonement was intended only for the elect. God wants all saved (2 Peter 3:9), so He died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15), it’s just that many won’t believe and are lost (John 3:18, John 3:36).
The Problem Of The Unevangelized
The final counterargument Ed Dingess gives to The Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism is what is known as the problem of the unevangelized. Ed Dingess says that if you are evangelical, then you must affirm that apart from the gospel, no one can be saved. Looking at his argument, it seems that when I affirmed that over our brief e-mail exchange, I misunderstood what he meant by “you cannot be saved apart from the gospel”. I took it to mean that apart from the atoning death of Jesus, the grace of The Holy Spirit, and allegiance to Yahweh, one cannot be saved. There will be no Baal worshippers or Atheists in Heaven.
But I take an inclusivist view of salvation, not an exclusivist view. Space does not permit me to unpack my view of how God deals with the unevangelized in any meaningful depth in this blog post. Rather, I would defer the reader to this episode of The Reasonable Faith Podcast for a quick answer, and my upcoming book about Hell called Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Doesn’t Impugn The Goodness Of God for a more thorough treatment. I pretty much agree with William Lane Craig’s response to the answer “What about those who never heard?” but in my book, I add some thoughts of my own.
In a nutshell, I think that God will judge people on the basis of the revelation they do have. People can respond to God’s natural revelation (His revelation in nature and conscience) and be saved that way. Not that they’re saved apart from Christ, but that they’re saved apart from knowing about the atoning work of Christ. They can throw themselves at the mercy of “The Unknown God”. Nevertheless, on the basis of verses like Romans 10:14, I don’t think we can have much confidence that very many people have been saved through natural/general revelation alone.
Check out Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Doesn’t Impugn The Goodness Of God for a more thorough treatment and I think you’ll see why Dingess’ view is not problematic. You could also read the previous edition called A Hellacious Doctrine, which I wrote before I became an annihilationist and is why I’m seriously revising it right now. It’s no longer available for purchase so click here to download it free of charge. Although my new book on Hell has three chapters defending annihilationism from the biblical text, I’ve changed my view on the fate of people who die in infancy, and I’ve added more material on the existence of God section, so don’t think that by downloading this book, you don’t need to get the new edition. Nevertheless, my view of what happens to the unevangelized has not changed at all. So check out A Hellacious Doctrine, Chapter 5, page 57.
Notice also that it doesn’t refute any of the premises. If we’re convinced that the argument is sound, then why not think that Dingess’ commitment to an exclusivist view is false rather than the other way around?
Just like Jim Boucher before him, Ed Dingess has failed to refute The Maximally Great Argument against Calvinism. He ends his article asking where prevenient grace is in The Bible, which is a red herring, but if he’s interested, I made the biblical case for prevenient grace in my blog post titled “What Biblical Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace?”
1: Ed Dingess, “The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism – REFUTED”, April 28th 2020 — https://reformedreasons.com/2020/04/28/the-maximally-great-argument-for-arminianism-refuted/
2: Ed Dingess, “The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism – REFUTED”, April 28th 2020 — https://reformedreasons.com/2020/04/28/the-maximally-great-argument-for-arminianism-refuted/
3: A person could be great in other ways. For example, Adolf Hitler was great in power and authority. A scientist or philosopher could be great in knowledge. These would be great people in non-moral areas, but they wouldn’t be great morally. You need to be loving to be great in a moral sense. That’s why God’s two greatest commandments is to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
4: Now, some people foolishly think that love and hate aren’t opposites. They’ll say things like “Hate isn’t the opposite of love. The opposite of love is indifference”. Now, surely if it were true that love and hate weren’t opposites, my argument would fail as this whole article has presupposed that they were. Let’s examine this popular phrase, shall we? Is indifference really the opposite of love? Well, in one way, I suppose it is. Love is a passion, and indifference isn’t passionate in the least. Love moves you to demonstrate the virtues spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13, indifference doesn’t care about whether it’s kind to you or not, whether it’s patient with you or impatient, whether it keeps records of wrongs or forgets all about them. Indifference doesn’t care, but love cares a great deal! Now, we can say that in this sense that indifference is clearly the opposite of love. But in what way? Indifference is the opposite of love in the sense that one cares and one does not care.
But that’s really more of a difference between passion and impassion. Hate is also the opposite of love, but in a different way. Hatred is a passion like love, but it’s a passion for the things opposite to the things that love is passionate for!
Before I got saved, (and I am ashamed to admit this), but I did hate some people with a firey passion. When I came to Christ, The Lord freed me from that bondage, but I still remember how it felt. As someone who has experienced both genuine hatred for people and genuine love, I can tell you firsthand just how diametrically opposed these two are. For the people I hated, I desired the worst for them. For the people I love, I desire the best for them. Regarding the people I hated, I wanted nothing to do with them. With the people I love, I want to spend as much time with them as I can. With the people I hated, my heart would have rejoiced to see them in despair, but with the people I love, my heart breaks when theirs breaks. So trust me when I say to you that you cannot love a person and hate them at the same time. I almost wish Paul had written a mirror image version of 1 Corinthians 13 to show people how true that is. It might read something like this: “Hate is impatient, hate is cruel, hate is envious. It boasts frequently, it is proud. It is self seeking, it is quick tempered, it keeps a long list of wrongs. Hate takes great delight in evil and rejoices with lies. Praise God that hate is capable of failing.”