Debate on Calvinistic Compatibilism Part 26: Matt Responds part-1

Hi Derek, in your first post I do appreciate your attempts to articulate your views further. But I am having trouble discerning how my arguments are actually being countered 🙂 Tis true. It seems as if you are more or less repeating or restating mere assertions—assertions which I have already rebutted or asked that you substantiate beyond your appeal to mystery or ignorance. Instead of seeking to actually counter my rebuttals your adopted approach is three pronged:

1)   You constantly appeal to assertion but not argument.

2)   You conveniently and illegitimately adopt an Arminian framework of God decreeing to permit evil to escape Calvinism’s framework of God determinatively decreeing evil.

3)   You attempt to curtail logical implications of incompatible assertions by implying that we should not approach God’s limited revelation logically but in a way that suspends logical judgments until God fully reveals the secret inner-workings of his decrees.

Some of my comments will be blunt—please don’t mistake it for anger. Such as this: It is wholly disingenuous of you Derek to claim “God has decreed everything that occurs” as you have REPEATEDLY CONFESSED and then when I press you on the insidious implications of this, you suddenly and inexplicably convert your theology to Arminianism and say “God only decrees to PERMIT evil.” This is just blatantly dishonest, Derek, and I’m afraid I have to call you out on it because it has become somewhat habitual in our discussion and has greatly retarded potential progress we could have had.

For example I specifically asked what would make you want to defend the thought that God unilaterally decreed everything from the color socks you choose to child abuse, domestic violence and the “script” of every perverse porn film? Instead of owning up to the full measure of your beliefs, (i.e. God determinatively decreed child abuse, etc), you try to evade the unpalatable implications and state:

God only decrees to permit evil; he does not author it, directly cause it, or even allow it apart from the creature’s own autonomous volition….He ordains that the creature is allowed to do evil… The creature is the origin, author and direct cause of evil. God simply ordains to permit this.”

No, Derek—this is quite false. You cannot say God decrees all choices men make and then when faced with the implication that God has decreed rape and child abuse suddenly say “Calvinists believe God decreed to PERMIT child abuse.” Hardly, Derek. In Calvinism God doesn’t truly permit anything because God has decreed everything! In Calvinism God doesn’t permit child abuse. In Calvinism God has specifically chosen who is to be abused! Moreover you cannot claim God has determinatively rendered certain every person’s sin and then try and make it more palatable in saying, “God decreed to ALLOW people to autonomously choose their sins.”

There is no reason to continue our discussion if you don’t have the conviction to stand by the most controversial elements of your theology. Right? 🙂

I feel like one trying to argue that apple trees grow apples and therefore can’t grow oranges. But you insist that apple trees grow oranges. So when I take you on a long walk to an apple orchid and show you the apples growing on it—you suddenly say, “See Matt—I told you apple trees don’t grow oranges—they grow apples. Then when we trudge all the way back home and are safely distant from visually seeing any  apple trees you state, “I see no reason, Matt, why apple trees can’t grow oranges.” (Matt smacks head in frustration).

My contention, Derek, has always been that Calvinism violates God’s moral perfection in virtue of the fact that God is said to determine and decree every foul evil that occurs in the world. In contrast Arminianism does not violate God’s moral perfection because we hold that God does not determinatively decree evil, rather we hold that God decreed to permit and allow evil for the sake of genuine freedom being realized.

Then your reply is to essentially retort, “No, Matt—Calvinism doesn’t violate God’s moral perfection because we only believe God decreed to PERMIT and ALLOW the evils men choose.”

In other words, Derek you are adopting Arminianism in order to argue against Arminianism and for Calvinism! You are intentionally obscuring the very meaning and issue we are debating by conveniently dropping the language of decree and picking up the language of permission whenever your view tastes too sour in your heart. In my earlier post I presented you clear reasons why you can’t adopt the language of permission in a Calvinist context whereby God has rendered certain everything that occurs through irresistible decrees. Rather than counter my arguments—you just repeat statements already disapproved. We can’t repeat our way to truth now can we?

I specifically asked you to parse the difference between God’s holy mind decreeing that evil occur and authoring that evil occur. In direct reply you state:

“Calvinism says that God is not the direct, sole or originating cause of evil; and certainly not its author. He permits it.

Then immediately afterwards you astonishingly declare:

“I addressed the difference in previous comments, and have now done so again.”

No, you haven’t done so at all Derek! All you’ve done is make assertion, after assertion, after assertion. NO ARGUMENT. NO DEMONSTRATION. NO SUBSTANTIATION. NO EXPLANATION.

We can’t assert our way to truth any more than we can repeat our way there. The question asked that you explain the difference between 1) God’s holy mind conceiving of and decreeing that the evil of X occur and 2) authoring the evil of X to occur. Your rejoinder to such critical questions is to all to often to say, “Calvinism says…,” or “I’m not sure your familiar with what Calvinism says…” or “Calvinism since the time of Augustine has always said…”

I don’t care what Calvinism says, Derek. I’m well aware of what it says. I’m interested in what it can demonstrate, explain and substantiate. So please may we have an answer? All you’ve done again is offer assertion. Merely saying, “Calvinism has historically said God is certainly not the author of evil” is not an answer to my initial question: “If God’s mind is the decretive origin of the sin of X occurring how is God’s mind not the author of the sin of X occurring?”

If a husband secretly hires an assassin to kill his wife, he may not be the one who directly pulls the trigger, but can we say her death did not originate in his will? Can we deny that her death is authored by his mind? Can we deny he is ultimately morally responsible for her death? Obviously not! The question over authorship and the origin of evil is about who firstly conceived that a specific evil occur? You must say God did. So explain to me why Calvinists have good grounds to assert since Augustine that God is not the author of evil? (Though that is not true either.) EXPLAIN to me how God can conceive of an evil I am to commit before I am born, and determinatively render it certain that I commit it, yet be said to not tempt me to commit that very evil? Note I said: EXPLAIN. My guess is you will say something along the lines of “These mysteries are too deep for our minds to plumb because God has not given us enough revelatory information to logically interact with.”

What I found to be quite ironic after you adopt the Arminian position of God “permitting evil for the sake of autonomous wills” rather than “decreeing evil”, you suddenly reverse your direction, convert back into full-fledged Calvinism, and try to argue that the Arminian doctrine of foreknowledge coupled with God’s allowance of sin and evil is to invariably make God the ultimate cause of evil—just like Calvinism. I found it very telling that you conceded that in a Calvinist context “God is the ultimate cause of evil” in virtue of decreeing all evil. However is it true that Arminianism invariably results in the same outcome as Calvinism? Not at all.

This claim of yours is sporadically seeded throughout your posts, so it needs to be dealt with in a number of places. I will start with this quote:

“If you affirm that God knows about and permits evil, then in some sense are you not committed to the belief that He willed it and is its ultimate cause?”

No. There is a vast difference. If I were to walk into your house and observe you command your son to touch a red, hot stove, and then subsequently watch him scream in pain by obeying you, could you honestly tell me you merely permitted your son to touch the hot stove so as to learn the consequences of disobedience? Obviously not. The language of command and the language of permission are worlds apart—as is the language of decree and the language of permission. I will address more of this in later comments.

Another concern I had over your first post is that it elicits a great deal of confusion that is blurring paramount distinctions between what I am asserting and what you are asserting. This is very unnecessary.

For example I stated that the Principal of Moral Perfection (PMR) would not allow God’s holy mind to be the origin of conception and decree for the decadent evils that plague our world and which God abhors. This is what you believe and therefore your view violates PMP. In reply you argued:

“In theory, this all sounds pretty good. However, skeptics use this type of argument against Christian theists when they assert that a morally perfect God would never create a world in which evil exists with His knowledge or by His permission. It does indeed appear that an omnipotent, loving God could create a world free of evil (and the possibility of evil).”

In saying this you are adopting the skeptic’s false premise wholesale—which is: Why didn’t God just create a world in which our wills are free, but God guarantees that they also always freely choose to do the right thing?

But the faulty logic of this is quite simple to observe. For how can God guarantee that our supposed “free” wills will always and perfectly choose the right thing— unless He coercively makes us choose the right thing.  But that is absurd. For not even God can causally determine someone to freely do anything. The statement itself invokes a contradiction. As Alvin Plantinga points out:

“Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely.”

Now since compatibilism itself entails one large contradiction and is forced to radically re-define “freedom” in compatibilistic terms, then perhaps Plantinga’s analysis of the contradiction inherent to the phrase “God determines we do things freely” doesn’t concern you. But it does concern logic. Then again when logic threatens the coherence of your view you suddenly and consistently want to highlight the limits of human logic and God’s current level of revelation and appeal to mystery.

I will address more of this later. But suffice it to say Arminianism does not violate PMP because God can only eradicate the possibility of evil in the world by removing the possibility for good.

These leads to how you approach certain words rooted in philosophical meaning and assign alternative meanings to them that completely ignores their proper context. This is also causing unnecessary confusion. For example when I stated that God, in virtue of being the greatest conceivable being, (philosophically speaking) would be morally perfect (and not determine all evil), you stated in reply:

There is one major flaw in the argument, and I answer with this slight alteration: “God, in virtue of being God, is the greatest inconceivable being.” I strongly distrust the ability of human conceptions to rightly apprehend an incomprehensible and transcendent God. (based partly on Isaiah 55:9)

My friend you are confusing “conceivable” as it is understood in philosophy with a layman sense of “understandable.” In other words I am not saying God is the greatest being that can be understood completely and comprehensively. Basically I am just saying God is the greatest and most perfect being in all existence and it is greater to not determinatively decree all evil than to decree it. IF God were to be truly and completely “inconceivable” (as you stated) in a philosophical sense, it would mean we would have no point of reference to even discuss him because he wouldn’t exist. We would be unable to even conceive of the word “God.” That I believe God is incomprehensible in his glory, nature and love is without a doubt. But you have confused the sense of these words. Perhaps I could have spelled it out better. Feel free to just drop the word “conceivable” and you will still get my underlying argument.

You then stated:

“Looking at your comments in general, I am not sure you grasp the articulate nuances of Calvinistic theology. Calvinists clearly and emphatically affirm that God is ONLY GOOD, ALL GOOD, and SOLELY RESPONSIBLE for EVERY GOOD that occurs. God is both entirely innocent of evil, completely victorious over it, and never subject to its tyranny.”

What I fully grasp, Derek is that articulate assertion is not enough. One must be able to explain one’s assertion in a reasonable manner. This Calvinists cannot do and you have given us no reason to conclude that you have done any different when it most matters. I fully appreciate the fact that you are capable of making assertions that God is only good, all good and ultimately responsible for every good in virtue of decreeing every good that occurs. But what you have not done is demonstrate in any reasonable manner why God wouldn’t ALSO be ultimately responsible for all the foul evils he conceives of and determinatively decrees—and which cannot take place outside his decree. The picture of God you present who is allegedly “entirely innocent of evil, completely victorious over evil, and never subject to its tyranny” is the same one who rendered all evil certain! So mere assertion, Derek is woefully inadequate. It is the same as the Westminster Confession trying to proverbially pull the wool of our eyes in saying  “God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass (including all evil) and this not by bare permission…yet God is not the author of evil.” To assert such controversial, paradigm encompassing dogma and then appeal to mystery in order to extricate one’s self from the obvious inconsistency is what should put Calvinism on the extreme margins of biblical merit.

I stated that in Calvinism, God is the ultimate origin and cause of evil in virtue of sovereignly decreeing all evil and rendering it certain (if not necessary).”

To this you replied:

“Decreeing/ordaining evil is not the same as originating it…I think we would both agree that God is the ultimate cause of evil, and yet not it’s origin or author (because He is incapable of desiring to do evil). Do we even disagree on this point?”

“Both agree that God is the ultimate cause of evil?” Hardly, Derek. This statement betrays the greatest confusion in our dialogue and I can only assume you have completely imagined that my view makes God “the ultimate cause of evil.” You certainly haven’t demonstrated it! This has been dealt with above but I will address it more when I spell out my thoughts on the problem of evil in the latter half of this post. Secondly explain for us why “decreeing/ordaining evil is not the same as originating it”???

Again—all I see is another assertion without an argument. It popped up again when you said God can be the “ultimate cause of evil, and yet not it’s origin or author because He is incapable of desiring to do evil.”  Yet since you hold all acts of evil originated in God’s decretive mind you have again offered another assertion without an argument. You admit God’s sovereign mind has conceived of every evil and determinatively decreed every evil, and you admit Calvinism makes God the ultimate cause of every evil choice. YET you now want to assert God is not the ultimate origin of the very evils he decreed because 1) he doesn’t desire to do evil and 2) only decrees and render it certain that evils be done by secondary wills/causes?

I have repeatedly sought to get you to interact with the critical point that within your view God’s will is the PRIMARY origin and cause of everything that occurs. In your view nothing can occur that God has not determinately decreed and rendered certain. Our wills are merely the SECONDARY, INTERMEDIATE causes of events carrying out the PRIMARY will of God. So explain to us why God’s decretive will is logically and chronologically prior to our will of decision, yet God’s preceding will of decree is not the ultimate origin of the very evils he willed us to make? It does helps your case none at all to simply make another assertion that humans desire to do the evils they do—because God’s will of precedent has determined what they desire!

You stated:

Calvinism does not violate or deny God’s moral perfection. It exults in the triumphant display of it, and rejoices in the fact of it. You seem to be saying that God’s moral perfection and His foreordination of all things are mutually exclusive. I take this as a false dichotomy, along with your assertion that foreordination and freedom are incompatible.

Here is just one large paragraph of more assertion without any substantiation to back it up. My argument is that Calvinism does violate God’s moral perfection and I EXPLAIN why. I also explained repeatedly why logic entails that your view results in an external, causal determinism that causally restricts choice to only what is externally determined–thereby invalidating genuine freedom of the will. You don’t deny the logic or offer a logical rebuttal or defense—you just deny the usefulness of logic to speak to the issue on why causal determinism and freedom are incompatible.

You ask:

“What prevents God from foreordaining in a way that does not invalidate freedom or implicate Him in evil?”

When you state “What prevents God from foreordaining…” you really mean: “What prevents God from causally determining our wills to choose the evils he decreed in a way that does not invalidate freedom…” Since this very statement entails a logical impossibility in the same category as: “What prevents God from creating a married bachelor?” then your question is both absurd and meaningless, unless you think God can do what is logically impossible. It has nothing to do with what can be logically done but God lacks the ability or power to achieve it. Do you think God can create a married bachelor, Derek?

Here is more conjecture without an argument that makes our dialogue all the more tiresome and prohibitive of progress:

“I believe strongly enough in his omnipotent wisdom to suppose that He can accomplish these things, and I think highly enough in His moral perfection to suppose that He can do it without violating His holiness, justice, purity, or goodness.”

It’s just not enough to claim such things Derek. After all we are debating the very claim you are making and you aren’t offering any argument as to how “God accomplishes” what I argue is logically incoherent for God to do and thus scripturally absurd to hold otherwise.

Moving on, I shared with you that simply saying, “The Bible says so…” as you tend to do isn’t sufficient in these arguments because we are both approaching the same texts with different guiding assumptions I called “frameworks.” The frameworks are directing and guiding our nuanced interpretations of scripture not vice-versa. Therefore I said the real argument is over the framework we adopt because ultimately it determines what we filter in and filter out, what is possible to concede to and what is impossible to concede to. I then pointed out that the presuppositional grid framework you adopt is that God sovereignty MUST entail that God has meticulously determined and planned every evil thought, desire and choice—such that it MUST take place. In contrast my framework is that if the Principal of Moral Perfection is true—if God’s nature truly is morally perfect and righteous—then the claim “God decrees all evil and renders it certain” is a false claim. The question then is, “Whose framework is correct?” But you disagree and state:

Scripture is sufficient when rightly handled. The problem is that we don’t always want it to say what it says, so we start downplaying what we don’t like and emphasizing what we do like. I believe you have done exactly this in your argument regarding the book of Proverbs.

Here, Derek, you are saying nothing more than “My framework is correct! My framework is correct!” But we will soon see how your own interpretation of Proverbs is so heavily weighted and emphasized by the grid of your assumed framework, it ends up positing the most absurd and bizarre conclusions.

But not surprisingly you have prepared yourself for this critique by preemptively trying to extol absurd and bizarre conclusions (which you term unexplainable…paradoxes) derived from your framework as being some sort of godly virtue! You state:

Part of my appeal to Biblical paradox is based on a rigorous commitment to taking all of Scripture at face value all the time, as far as is humanly possible, even if it doesn’t seem to fit the system. This makes you think more, leaves you without an explanation sometimes, and takes your trust in the Bible through tests that result in an increase of faith faith and understanding. I am convinced that system-driven exegesis is actually a hindrance to sanctification. Although it is impossible to be completely unbiased, it is well worth working toward.

Let’s remember God is not the author of confusion—which is pretty much what you are extolling as a virtue in your framework. What you call “paradox” and “leaves you without an explanation” (another appeal to mystery to avoid confusion and incoherency) is nothing less than very, very bad thinking. Moreover there does not exist a greater “system-driven exegesis” than Calvinism! It is wholly driven by a grid of assumptions (framework) that can only assert, but not EXPLAIN how: 1) being causally determined by an external will to freely commit the sin of X isn’t a contradiction, 2) God decrees and renders certain my sin but doesn’t tempt me to sin, 3) God’s mind is the conceiving origin for all evil but evil’s occurrence doesn’t originate with his mind, 4) God’s mind is the decretive origin for all evil, but he is not the originating author of the evils he decrees, 5) God’s will is the ultimate cause of evil, but God is not responsible for the evil he causes because he determinatively controls the wills of secondary, intermediate agents to bring about the evil he determines, 6) God determinatively decrees and renders certain all evil, but God only does this by permitting autonomous wills to freely choose to do evil, AND ON AND ON AND ON the logical inconsistencies continue to be asserted without explanation— except to say the Bible embraces all these paradoxes and our minds are too limited to comprehend and unravel the mysterious appearance of these disjointed, oxymoronic, incoherent statements.

Now you add we must embrace it all through “trust…and an increase of faith.” Sorry but my trust and faith is that God’s revealed truths DO COHERE and that genuine biblical mysteries aren’t synonyms for incoherent propositions. Your faith is that despite God’s revealed truths being inexplicable and incoherent to our finite minds, in the end God will unravel it all coherently.

You strangely ask:  “What contradictions have I asserted? Where have I stated that any given proposition is both true and not true in the same way and at the same time?”

We’ve covered this before…a number of times. You never offered any rational rebuttal—just more assertion, appeal to mystery and appeal to ignorance because God hasn’t willed to reveal his “secret working” that allegedly absolves the contradictions. But again–here are just two examples Derek:

Logic dictates that if we are causally determined by factors outside our own wills to choose something, we do not choose it freely. Thus to say we were determined to choose X by causal factors external to our wills, IS to therefore to say we did not choose X freely. Therefore you state a contradiction when you argue our autonomous wills freely choose what God’s will determinatively decreed we choose. You are in essence saying: “Our wills are autonomous and free” and then saying “our wills are not autonomous and free” because you collapse back into determinism. Your argument is not with me but with a right use of philosophical terminology and logic.

And another: Your view holds that God’s mind is the conceiving origin and decretive origin for the evil of X occurring. Then you turn around and deny that God’s mind is the ultimate origin of the evil of X occurring.

Your argument is not with me, but with logic. So as I see it, the real paradox is not in the Bible, but exists as false assumption in your head.

You further assert:

I am saying that my view agrees with God’s Word, reflects God’s revelation, and may possibly be difficult to explain (in terms of mere human logic) at some points where God has not directly spoken. That is a far cry from absurdity!… When it comes to His eternal workings, which He has not seen fit to describe to us in detail, it could be a bit presumptuous for us to think our application of human logic is going to lead us to a detailed understanding.

This all sounds interesting, Derek, even dare I say “spiritual” but you are simply repeating the same false assumption and false claim that any appearance of incoherency or inconsistency in your view is ONLY a product of our limited, logical apprehension of God’s full revelations that God has chosen to shield from us. When the lofty, spiritual sounding verbiage is stripped out all you are asserting is that because humans are not privy to God’s full disclosure and revelation we must suspend our temptation to think too logically about what God has revealed. Because IF WE DO—we will be faced with irrational propositions that we cannot make sense of—such as saying God’s moral perfection means he can’t tempt anyone to evil, but there is no problem with him conceiving of every profane thought, word and deed and determinately rendering it certain that men carry his will of decreed evil.

In short you are just saying the appearance of inconsistency and incompatibility only exists in the limited revelation we have now—but one day God will offer full disclosure concerning his “eternal workings” and until then we must have faith and avoid the Arminian temptation to think God’s current revelation is sufficiently consistent to reject propositions that seem to be incompatible or inconsistent.

But I now offer you another opportunity to prove otherwise: Can you tell us, Derek, how God conceives of our evils, decrees and determines our evils and yet doesn’t tempt us to evil? I’m quite confident though you will claim that the answer to such a question lies outside the realm of logical inquiry and outside the realm of God’s current, Biblical revelation—but I remain hopeful for something more substantive.

Let me reiterate that I do believe there are genuine mysteries in the Bible where God has not fully revealed himself. But these mysteries don’t revolve around incompatible revelatory truths that logically fall out of engaging the limited, biblical revelation we have. In other words, propositions that appear to be logically incompatible (i.e. we freely choose what we are causally determined to choose) are not inherent to the limited revelation God has revealed—as you assume. That is the difference between a true mystery of God’s revelation and what you propose as mystery. You state you are unable to explain how your views can be reasonably understood and logically explained because God’s revelation is currently too limited “to think our application of human logic is going to lead us to a detailed understanding.”

Thus conclude this book 🙂 I shall post my second reply to your second post next.

Shalom, Matt


About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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