James White on Equal Ultimacy

Recently I attended a debate – if you can even call it that – between Dr. James White and Steve Tassi on Romans 9. The debate was supposed to be over whether or not Romans 9 teaches Calvinism, which, of course, it obviously does. Unfortunately for audience members like myself, Mr. Tassi used all of his opening statement to complain about how unfair the debate was instead of actually addressing Romans 9. He claimed that the debate began on unfair grounds because Dr. White reviewed some of Mr. Tassi’s statements the night before on the Dividing Line. The rest of the night turned into a downward spiral, though it was occasionally redeemed by White’s preaching of the Gospel and utter refutation of Mr. Tassi. Mr. Tassi performed quite poorly, broke the rules of the debate, and could not withstand Dr. White’s opposing arguments. Hence, Dr. White’s Facebook post:

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It was a bloodbath.

Luckily, I did not mind so much since I attended the debate mostly just to meet Dr. White. My mind was already made up and I did not expect to learn anything from the opposing side anyway. That may sound arrogant, but so be it. The common arguments against the Calvinist view of Romans 9 usually involve argumentum ad misericordiam, some account of how Jacob and Esau non-soteriologically represent nations, or reasons for why we ought to interpret Romans 9 through the lens of Genesis and Malachi and not vice-versa. I’ve already heard them. None are convincing. Unless the debate had been between Dr. White and N.T. Wright, or some other scholar of high regard, I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

At any rate, there was a thirty-minute Q & A session at the end of the debate. I tried to get towards the front of the line as soon as possible so that I would have a shot at asking Dr. White about an issue that had come up a few times during the evening, and which I had been thinking about for over a year.

My question was on equal ultimacy. Mr. Tassi, alongside other speakers such as Jerry Walls and Leighton Flowers, has a tendency to argue that the logical conclusion of Calvinism is equal ultimacy. Since equal ultimacy is obviously untrue, so the story goes, then Calvinism must not be true. It follows a simple modus tollens form of argument:

Premise 1: C(alvinism) -> E(qual Ultimacy)

Premise 2: Not-E

Conclusion: Not-C

Non Calvinists sometimes use the same argument for God hating the reprobate or for active reprobation. The logical conclusion of Calvinism leads to God hating individuals, but God doesn’t hate anyone, therefore Calvinism must not be true. The logical conclusion of Calvinism is active reprobation, but active reprobation can’t be true, therefore Calvinism must not be true…and so on.

I used to respond to these challenges by simply accepting the fact that equal ultimacy is true, that God hates the reprobate, and that active reprobation is true. I would then point out how the non Calvinist would import contrary theology within Premise 2 of their arguments, thus begging the question. In doing so, I avoided the inconsistency I perceived amongst other Calvinists, and would accept the unadulterated truth of predestination, election, and reprobation without complaint.

However, I knew even then that James White denied equal ultimacy. This bothered me for a long time, since I respected Dr. White too much to believe he was the one at fault. I must have misunderstood or made some simple mistake. So, for a year, I postponed answering my question on equal ultimacy until providence gave me an opportunity to speak with Dr. White himself.

Here’s a video of me asking Dr. White my question. I am the second audience member and I start my question at approximately 3:05 into the video. From 2:38-3:05, Dr. White made fun of my shirt which said, “BATMAN IS A CALVINIST: YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID.” Calvinist Batman on Twitter came up with the shirt idea.

Me:

“It is a common tendency among non Calvinists to say Calvinism leads to equal ultimacy, therefore Calvinism cannot be correct. I am partial to the view that equal ultimacy is actually true and that a ‘positive-positive’ view is not problematic. You and R.C. Sproul and others say that it is a problematic view, and I am not sure what exactly is problematic about it. In Romans 9:22 where it says God ‘prepares for destruction,’ where God ‘hardens,’ it seems very active, and I want to know either why it isn’t active or what I am getting wrong.”

Dr White:

“Yes you are wrong [laughter]. And Batman has nothing to do with it [more laughter].

Here’s the problem with equal ultimacy: Equal ultimacy does not mean that God is not active in both election and reprobation. That’s not what it means. What’s the phrase itself? ‘Equal’ ultimacy. The point is that what it requires on God’s part to bring about the salvation of a sinner, the extension of grace, the self-giving of the Son of God, raising someone to spiritual life, these are some of the greatest miracles in all the history of God. God doesn’t have to do any of that to bring the reprobate into the position of his final condemnation. So what is done by God in bringing about the salvation of his people is fundamentally different in its purpose, in its extent of power, in the nature of its power, than the concept of allowing people who are in Adam to remain in Adam and to continue to do the things that Adam and his fallen children long to do.

It can’t be an equal sign. Yes God is active in both, but the nature of that activity is fundamentally different that the very idea itself [of equal ultimacy] runs counter to everything scripture teaches. That’s why I was asking when the accusation was made [by Mr. Tassi], ‘Show me where “calling” is used. Because “calling” is a defined action of God that brings about the regeneration of individuals. Where is something even similar to that done [to the reprobate]?’ There was no answer because there is no answer, because equal ultimacy is not true.

Boom. Question answered perfectly in under two minutes.

What I was conflating was active reprobation and equal ultimacy. I did not realize that I could simultaneously believe active reprobation and that God’s act of election and salvation is fundamentally different from God’s act of reprobation and damnation.

Think about it, in order to accomplish the salvation of his elect, the Father had to choose his elect by divine decree, the Son of God had to become incarnate and atone for the sins of the elect on the cross after having lived a perfectly righteous life, and then the merit of Christ’s work has to be applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. For the reprobate, God decrees their damnation and leaves them in Adam. God leaves the reprobate in Adam, whereas God had to lift the elect out of that state of condemnation through a series of additional acts. One takes less to accomplish, the other more. Yet, throughout all of this, I can affirm God is active and not merely passive.

It is not one or the other any more. I can reject the error of equal ultimacy while simultaneously affirming the truth of active reprobation clear taught in Romans 9 and elsewhere. Thank you Dr. White!

A Paradox of Infinite Knowledge

For every proposition we know, we can reflect upon it to create a new piece of knowledge. For example, if I know that I exist, I can likewise say that I know that I know I exist. Again, if I comprehend this statement, then I could truthfully say that I know that I know that I know I exist. Because I can always add a further “I know that” statement to the previous piece of knowledge, this can continue ad infinitum. In this way, even if I only started with a single proposition I know to be true, it is possible to infinitely multiply the number of propositions I know through self-reflection.

The infinitely many propositions would take this form:

  1. I know I exist.
  2. I know that I know I exist.
  3. I know that I know that I know I exist.
  4. I know that I know that I know that I know I exist.
  5. I know that I know that I know that I know that I know I exist.
  6. I know that I know that I know that I know that I know that I know I exist…

…And on it goes.

Infinite knowledge would be the knowledge of this entire series from 1 through ∞.

But this may be cheating. Adding “I know that” statements may not even substantially increase our knowledge. Even assuming “I know that” statements do in fact add to our knowledge, it is much less clear how it an individual could grasp an infinite series.

Let us suppose, for the time being, that “I know that” statements are not merely vacuous and do increase our knowledge. Let us also assume it is possible to grasp the infinite series which arises from adding these statements ad infinitum. Hence, you know an infinite series of propositions, but of course this does not mean you possess all knowledge. This only means you know infinitely many things relative to the starting proposition. Given these assumptions, something strange happens.

What if this was our starting proposition: “I know an infinite series of propositions”?

This starting proposition seems to entail a paradox. The paradox arises from the fact that, in order to first know an infinite series of “I know that” propositions, we would need to begin with a proposition that does not include knowledge of an infinite series. Knowledge of the infinite series only arises once we begin with a proposition that does not reference the infinite series. Propositions like “I exist” and “Water is H2O” both do this because they are finite. These finite propositions go on to entail knowledge of infinitely many “I know that” propositions, but to say “I know an infinite series of propositions” turns the procedure on it head by asserting infinite knowledge to begin with.

This starting proposition devolves into a paradoxical story of the chicken and the egg; which comes first? For the statement to be true we would have to begin with an infinite series, but in order to get the infinite series we must begin with the finite proposition…

…And on it goes.

This is just one example of the many paradoxes that can arise from self-reference. Here’s another example of a paradox: “This statement is false.” If it is true that it is false, then it is false and not true. But, if it is false, then it is true.

Paradoxes also arise in set theory. Set theory, to put it simply, is the study of the qualities of sets and their implications. For instance, the set of all cats contains all cats in the world. Sets are like theoretical categories containing things in the world that fall under that category. But, sets can also contain sets. There is ‘the set of all individual sets of every mammal species’, which would contain the set of dogs, cats, lions and every other mammal. There can also be ‘the set of all sets’. In this case, the set of all sets would contain itself, because the set of all sets is itself a set!

But then, how would we make sense of ‘the set of all sets that does not contain itself’? This does not seem possible, for the set of all sets that does not contain itself would have to contain itself in order to be a set. But it couldn’t be a set because then it would contain itself. It must be a set, it can’t be a set, it must contain itself, but it can’t contain itself…

And on it goes.

Bertrand Russel and Alfred Whitehead tried to solves these paradoxes that would arise in set theory by making each set non self-referential. The sets could not refer to themselves, because these paradoxes would arise when they mentioned themselves.

Then Kurt Gödel came along with his incompleteness theorem and complicated matters even more.

At any rate, my paradox of infinite knowledge takes the same form as many other paradoxes which arise from self-reference. If we begin with a finite proposition of possessing knowledge of infinite propositions, we would first need the infinite series. But to get the infinite series, we need the finite proposition.

And on it goes.

Alvin Plantinga on Theodicy

In Alvin Plantinga’s book, God, Freedom and Evil, Plantinga uses rigorous methods unique to the western analytic philosophical tradition to discuss the relation between the Christian God and the existence of evil. In this way, Plantinga presents topics in Theodicy, a term first coined by the 17th century thinker Gottfried Leibniz. A theodicy is an attempt to explain “the problem of evil” in a theistic context. The dilemma generally states that the existence of suffering or evil in the world is contradictory or inconsistent with the existence of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God. If God is truly omnibenevolent and omnipotent, as the argument goes, then he would not allow evil and suffering. Since Christianity simultaneously affirms these divine attributes and the existence of evil, Christianity is internally incoherent and ought to be abandoned. Plantinga argues that these propositions are perfectly consistent with one another, appealing to what he calls “a Free Will Defense”, which I shall later critique.

Plantinga first quotes well-known figures, like the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, to give us a sense of the many forms of suffering present in the world:

“Remorse, shame, anguish, rage, disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, despair – who has ever passed through life without cruel inroads from these tormentors? How many have scarcely ever felt any better sensations?…All the goods of life united would not make a very happy man, but all the ills united would make a wretch indeed” (8).

All humans experience some form of suffering. The worst off experience disease, pain, poverty and so on. Even the wealthiest and most comfortable of people experience boredom. How then could a good God exist?

Although human suffering is awful, the existence of suffering in the world does not explicitly contradict the existence of God. As Plantinga indicates, unless there is a formal argument able to demonstrate their mutual relevance, the so-called “problem of evil” poses no problem to belief in God. It would be like asserting backpacks exist and therefore honey does not exist. What do backpacks have to do with honey? Likewise, what does evil or suffering have to do with God’s existence? What we need is a formal argument able to specifically indicate how these two propositions contradict one another. Plantinga provides us with such an argument based upon comments made by the 20th century Australian philosopher John Mackie.

After distinguishing between implicit contradictions and explicit contradictions, as well as logical truths and a posteriori truths (Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction), Plantinga addresses Mackie’s argument. Mackie asserts:

“…good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. From these it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible.” (16)

Before Plantinga translates Mackie’s comments into a formal argument, Plantinga rightly points out the vagueness of Mackie’s assertions. For instance, is it really correct that “there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do”? Can an omnipotent being make contradictions true? To the contrary, scripture says God cannot lie or contradict himself (2 Timothy 2:13, Titus 1:2), so there are limits to what God can do. Also, is it necessarily true that “a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can”? Or is Mackie just asserting erroneous premises? Why couldn’t God eventually eliminate all evil rather than be required to eliminate evil immediately? Plantinga raises objections and counter examples like these against Mackie’s argument. These help demonstrate the premises Mackie asserts are not as self-evident as they may first appear.

In an attempt to make Mackie’s formal argument against the existence of God the most plausible, Plantinga reformulates Mackie’s premises into the following form:

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. God is omniscient
  4. Evil exists
  5. And omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate
  6. There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do (21)

In order to present the argument as it is now, Plantinga had to help Mackie clarify his own argument. Plantinga added proposition 3, while also reformulating propositions 5 and 6 to make them more relevant. Because Mackie’s original set of claims was wholly insufficient to provide any definitive conclusions, it is no mystery Plantinga states:

“One wonders…why the many atheologians who confidently assert that this set [of propositions] is contradictory make no attempt whatever to show that it is. For the most part they are content just to assert that there is a contradiction here.” (23)

Many, like Mackie, love to say that evil and suffering contradict God’s existence, but fail to explicitly indicate where the contradiction lies. Perhaps the problem of evil is so popular that many philosophers and theologians are content to merely assume there is a contradiction, or at least an apparent one. Plantinga brilliantly challenges this mindset. So far, Plantinga succeeds in elucidating this common failure by providing specific counter-examples, as well as providing the reader with a brief explanation of the logical concepts involved in these types of arguments.

However, it is at this point in the book where I have serious disagreements with Plantinga. The solution he offers to the problem of evil is what he calls “a Free Will Defense” which he juxtaposes with “a Free Will Theodicy” (28). Free Will Theodicy attempts to explain what God’s reason really is for allowing evil in the world, while Plantinga’s Free Will Defense is only what God’s reason might possibly be for allowing evil in the world. By giving a Free Will Defense, Plantinga only aims to prove that the set of propositions listed above are not necessarily contradictory to God’s existence.

Although I reject free will with the utmost severity, I would find value in the Free Will Defense if we could use it for different purposes. Contrary to Free Will Theodicy, Free Will Defense claims to be a hypothetical postulate rather than an actual solution. Because of the hypothetical nature of its claims, Plantinga’s Free Will Defense is a fascinating launch pad from which to discuss possible worlds, hypothetical human depravity and other philosophically relevant modal concepts. This Free Will Defense, though I disagree with Plantinga’s approach, helps to demonstrate that there is no necessary contradiction between human suffering and the existence of God. However, I will soon argue that the Christian solution to the problem of evil is so much less complicated and does not rely upon false postulates like human free will.

Before I attempt to refute Plantinga’s general approach, I want to respond to some of the initial claims he uses to support it. Not only is his entire approach misguided, but it is based upon a variety of false smaller premises. Plantinga describes his Free Will Defense in the following way:

“What is relevant to the Free Will Defense is the idea of being free with respect to an action. If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will per­form the action, or that he won’t.” (29)

This account of free will is fair. An individual is not causally determined by antecedent conditions” or external forces that would render their choice certain. This does not state we are left unaffected by circumstances, like being sleepy or hungry, but that we have the real possibility of choosing differently from how we actually chose in any given situation. This definition aligns with common intuitions about what free will is.

In addition to defining free will, Plantinga tells us what he means by being “significantly free” and “moral significance”:

“an action is morally significant for a given person, if it would be wrong for him to perform the action but right to refrain or vice versa…a person is significantly free, on a given occasion, if he is then free with respect to a morally significant action” (30).

Both definitions, in my estimation, are fair and plausible. I am perfectly happy to accept Plantinga’s stipulative definitions of “morally significant” and “significantly free” in this context. He has not yet asserted anything that is contrary to my theological paradigm because he is only here defining terms.

Though I have no problem with these definitions, what Plantinga next asserts is a huge leap in reasoning which I oppose vigorously.

“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, an else being equal, than a world contain­ing no free creatures at all. 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. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” (30)

First I would like to examine some of the claims Plantinga makes in this paragraph and then I will critique his general approach. These are a few of the premises in this paragraph that are completely baseless:

  1. A world with significantly free creatures is more valuable than otherwise.
  2. Creaturely free will does not contradict God’s omnipotence.
  3. A world with creatures that commit both moral good and evil is more valuable than a world without moral good or evil.

1. This assertion is the most egregious. To the contrary, I hold that a world with no significantly free creatures is more valuable than otherwise. I accept Plantinga’s definition of significantly free, but an individual being significantly free is not itself significant or valuable. Plantinga inserts this assumption into his reasoning most likely because he believes freedom is necessary for moral good, which I argue is false in response to number 3. There is no inherent value in freedom and it has not necessary relation to moral goodness.

2. Asserting that God would still be omnipotent even if he created significantly free creatures is contradictory on its face. This would involve God willing that which is contrary to his will or opposing that which he wills. Under Plantinga’s formulation, even if God knows “Billy” will commit sin contrary to God’s will, God wills “Billy” to commit the sin anyway, because he wants Billy to be free. Hence, God is “omnipotent” enough to create creatures able to oppose his omnipotence. God wills for creatures to be free so that they can oppose his will. This is as nonsensical as saying God is so powerful that he can prevent himself from being powerful. This is not real omnipotence but a fundamental contradiction. (Calvinism escapes this contradiction by demonstrating that there is two senses God “wills”: (1) God’s will of command and (2) God’s will of decree. Therefore, God may freely decree that which is contrary to his commands because he wills these in two different senses. But as for the free will position, God really really wants people to obey his commands, but fails to accomplish this. In fact, God’s priorities are so confused that he would rather his creatures possess the freedom to sin and experience eternal Hell, contrary to his will, than to determine the actions of any of his creatures.)

3. The capacity for sin is not a prerequisite for moral goodness. It may be true that for an individual to be significantly free they must be capable of both moral good and evil, but not for an individual to be capable of moral goodness in general. To the contrary, God could have determined all people’s actions in such a way that they only committed moral goodness. Clearly they would not longer be significantly free, but Plantinga presents no argument, philosophical or otherwise, demonstrating why freedom is a necessary prerequisite for moral goodness as such. Freedom is necessary to freely perform morally good actions, but not all morally good actions must be free. Take God for example. God only commits morally good actions while it is also impossible for him to commit evil. There is no reason why God could not have created creatures only capable of moral good just as he is only capable of moral good. It may be true that certain good states of affairs would require evil in order for them to obtain, but it is not true that all good states of affairs require evil or the possibility of evil.

These comments oppose what Plantinga says next:

“The heart of the Free Will Defense is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also contained moral evil. And if so, then it is possible that God has a good reason for creating a world containing evil.” (31)

Notice how Plantinga qualifies his statement by saying “or as much moral good as this world contains”. He assumes that God is forced to create a world in which there is the most good, and that this world we inhabit happens to be the one containing the most good. I would like to point out that believing one of God’s goals was to create a world containing the most possible good is completely unwarranted (pun intended, Plantinga wrote two books titled Warrant and Proper Function and Warranted Christian Belief). He presents no argument  in favor of this; he merely assumes it. But even if he can demonstrate one of God’s goals in creating the universe was to make one containing the most good, it is ridiculous to say that this world is that world. As I already pointed out above, not all moral good requires the existence of a moral evil accompanying it; only significantly free good moral actions require the simultaneous possibility of moral evil.

Furthermore, it is vague what Plantinga means by “as much moral good”. If there were a million people who never sinned throughout history, as opposed to our world where billions of billions of people commit both moral good and evil, it seems cheap to say that our world containing billions of people contains more moral good. Sure there may be quantitatively more morally good actions in the latter case, but there is also innumerably more evil actions in our world than the former. The “atheologians” Plantinga refers to would probably argue that a world with no evil is of greater importance than a world containing the most moral good.

What justifies Plantinga’s preference over the other, and where does scripture state any of this? The fact is, is that God could have created a world without the possibility of any evil while simultaneously determining human actions in such a way that they only performed morally good actions. If humans only performed morally good actions, the Fall would never have taken place and there would be no death nor suffering. Why then did God create the world knowing suffering would take place? Plantinga resorts to saying that God has a good reason for allowing evil because it somehow maximizes the amount of good in the world. This answer is not satisfactory. 

This is why Plantinga’s approach to this issue is problematic: not only because the answer is unsatisfactory, not only because Plantinga has to posit unwarranted and undemonstrated assumptions into the content of his argument, but because Plantinga assumes along with the atheologian that there is a problem that needs to be solved in the first place. Plantinga admits that there is some problem of evil and then sets out to solve it by positing an absurd doctrine.

The problem of evil is first and foremost a pseudo-theological problem. Christians who want to solve the problem ignore the fact that they are attempting to respond to an argument whose very premises are antithetical to the Christian faith. It should not be so profound to theologians or philosophers like Plantinga that atheistic premises entail atheistic conclusions. What ought to happen is for the Christian to reject the atheistic premises to begin with, rather than to accept the premises and grope for a different conclusion.

However, the atheists themselves would object to my comments and say that they are not formulating atheistic premises, but drawing upon Christian doctrines themselves to demonstrate the internal incoherence of Christianity. If God is loving, and is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, good, omniscient and the rest – assuming a valid argument can even be formulated – all of this contradicts the existence of moral evil and suffering. There is just no way around it, they may say. But, what they do not tell you is that they apply non Christian definitions to the Christian terminology used in the argument. Hence, “good” means “cannot allow evil”, “God is loving” means “God cannot allow evil” and “omnibenevolent” means “cannot allow evil”. Scripture itself never defines these terms in the manner atheists want them to be defined.

If we let scripture define these terms, then, by definition, these words cannot possess these definitions. Atheists and their Christian counterparts believe themselves to be participating in a profound discussion of vast philosophical and theological significance, when in reality both parties are guilty of mere equivocation and careless application of definitions.

In reality, God not only allows evil, he causes all evil. Not only that, God loves only his elect. Also, God intended evil to come into the world in order to redeem the elect and punish the reprobate. God is good and loving for doing so. This is because scripture defines these words in a manner that is internally consistent, but inconsistent with the meanings applied to them by atheists and confused Christian theologians. What God does is just and good by definition, so if God wants to create a vessel of wrath, fit it for destruction and then destroys it, he does so without ceasing to be good. If God causes evil, he does not himself commit evil, and does not cease to be good.

Once Christians realize their atheist opponents use atheistic problem-of-evil premises to make atheistis conclusions, all the Christian has do to is reject their premises. Christianity disagrees with these definitions and premises to begin with, so there is no use arguing against the conclusion when the premises leading up to the conclusion is what is at fault.

Plantinga, in response to assertions against God’s existence, began wonderfully. He demonstrated that atheologians often do not even understand their own argument and cannot usually indicate explicitly where the contradiction lies. But, instead of continuing this strain of thought, Plantinga gives this nonsense argument the benefit of the doubt and proceeds to offer a theory to solve the issue which is likewise unchristian – the doctrine of free will.

Free will is the complete inversion of the Christian worldview. It makes God a creature and turns the creature into the Creator. It nullifies the grace of God in salvation and makes redemption dependent upon human initiative. Free will morphs utterly depraved wretches into morally neutral people generally capable of righteous actions. It turns the cross of Christ into a potential atonement rather than an actual payment for sin. Free will turns the Lord Jesus Christ into an effeminate beggar desperate for anyone to love him, as opposed to a powerful Savior who sacrifices himself for those whom the Father has given him. Free will turns Jesus into an adulterer who sacrifices himself indiscriminately for those who will spend an eternity in Hell rather than sacrifice himself for his Bride alone. Free will is the single most evil doctrine in the history of the Christian Church. Its implications are so wide-ranging and destructive that one cannot help but question the mental wellbeing of such a person. Such a person is either ignorant of the issues or on the verge of insanity.

Not all philosophers should comment on theological issues; Alvin Plantinga is one of them. Free will, and thus Plantinga’s entire Free Will Defense crumbles in response to a single sentence:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

God works in us to will.

This means God controls the wills of his people.

A thousand other passages can be cited which speak of God hardening hearts of wicked men, stirring up people’s spirits, of predestination, of working all things according to his own will, of controlling the outcome of battles, of manipulating the hearts of kings, of God accomplishing all that he wills to come to pass…

But still, philosophers want to talk about free will. Plantinga wrote a 100+ page book to solve a pseudo-problem with a hypothesis explicitly contradicted by scripture. This is a man who is well-respected and well-known in the philosophical community, who has contributed significantly to our understanding of modal concepts and who knows what else; yet, he cannot understand one of the most fundamental truths of Christian theology.

Benjamin L. Corey Says Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God

Patheos.com has proven itself again and again to be a breeding ground for those most opposed to the Biblical faith. Its self-professed “Christian” contributors think that they are protecting the honorable name of Christianity from loony fundies and rabid Calvinists, when they only succeed in calmly propagating theological falsehoods and irrational claims. A week ago, Benjamin L. Corey gave us another article demonstrating this, called “Yes, Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God (But Here’s What That Means & Doesn’t)”. In this post I will respond to his article. My response will be in regular text while content from his article will be in bold and quotation marks.

What inspired his article were comments made by Professor Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor of Wheaton College in Illinois, which is a Christian college. He quotes Hawkins as saying,

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

If Hawkins wants to be considered an evangelical Christian, there are numerous problems with her statement:

(1) The only way an individual can stand in religious solidarity with another is by sharing the same religion. Standing in religious solidarity is either meaningless or explicitly states that she shares a common religion with Muslims, which would make her Muslim and not Christian.

(2) Hawkins claims that her religious identification with Muslims is not due to sharing a common Islamic faith, but sharing a common book. Her statement stems from the fact that the Qur’an often refers to Jews and Christians as the “people of the book”, asserting that Jews and Christians, like Muslims now, had once received divine revelation. However, Muslims and Christians do not actually share a common book. Muslims reject the Bible because they believe that, although it was once divine revelation, it has since been corrupted and the original lost. Likewise, Christians reject that the Qur’an is divine revelation. Hawkins, by making this statement, demonstrates that she submits to Islamic assumptions that Christians explicitly reject, namely, that Christianity and Islam share a sacred text and a common divine origin. Since Hawkins implicitly accepts these premises, she affirms the truth of the Islamic faith. If she denies this logic, then her statement is meaningless. Hence, her religious solidarity with Muslims is either meaningless or an acceptance of Islam.

(3) The pope is not a religious authority to evangelical Christians. One of the theological battle cries of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura, that scripture alone is our ultimate authority. This tenet of protestantism was supported in opposition to the pope and the Roman corruption of Christianity. The fact that Hawkins quotes the pope as a relevant religious authority demonstrates her disdain for the entire history of protestantism, upon which Wheaton College is still somewhat based.

(4) This 4th point should go without saying. Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. Since this issue comprises the rest of Corey’s article, let’s look at what he has to say.

“For the crime of saying, ‘we worship the same God’ Hawkins was suspended from school. Once news of this broke, the Evangelical Machine™ went into over-drive to celebrate the decision. Bloggers quickly weighed in with approval, and it certainly caught the eye of my brother-from-a-TOTALLY-different-mother, Franklin Graham, who said ‘shame on her!’ for wearing a hijab (as if a head covering is some mortal sin), and continued to say she was ‘absolutely wrong’ that we worshipped the same God.”

The issue is not that she wore a head covering. The issue is that a self-professed Christian professor who teaches at a Christian college made statements proving she is not a Christian. For one, she submits to an Islamic assumption that Islam shares a divine origin with Christianity. As we will see, Corey shares this same assumption with Hawkins and virtually his entire rationale for believing Muslims and Christians serve the same God is based upon this premise.

“Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Is God and Allah one-in-the-same? In the most primitive way, yes. Let me explain:

In ancient times there was a man named Abraham who is revered in three of the world’s great religions. Abraham, of course, is considered the father of the Jewish people as well as Arabs and then Muslims. Essentially, Abraham somewhat founded a religion that went into three different streams: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Here’s the important part: all three of these religions are Abrahamic religions, trying to worship Abraham’s God.”

The most important thing to note about Corey’s assessment is that he tells it from an Islamic perspective and not from a Christian perspective. He presents an Islamic narrative about Islam’s origins, but Christians reject the Islamic narrative in the first place.

What I mean is that, according to Christians, Islam is not an Abrahamic religion. Sure Muslims can claim that Islam can be traced back to Abraham, but Christians deny this. To Christians, Islam is merely a conglomerate of demonic lies. The Qur’an is the production of an author that was ignorant of the Biblical narrative, it absurdly presents stories from Gnostic Gospels as authentic accounts of Jesus’ life, and only serves to justify Muhammad’s megalomaniacal goals as a warlord. Corey, by assuming the truth of Islam’s own narrative about itself, begs the question, and demands that Christians accept a narrative about Islam that only Muslims can believe.

Let me give an analogy. Suppose I wake up tomorrow and decide to make up a religion. I claim to be a prophet of god and that my religion can be traced back to Abraham just like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, even though my religion shares this divine origin with Islam, my religious doctrines contradict Islam. Muhammad is no longer an Arab prophet, but a Chinese philosopher. Tawheed, the oneness of Allah, is no longer true, but instead god is an impersonal duality of good and evil. Oh and by the way, the Qur’an, even though it was once revelation from god, it has since been hopelessly corrupted; that is why the Qur’an is filled with statements affirming Tawheed and countless other doctrines that continuously contradict my religion.

Imagine then, once more, that there were liberal Muslims who claimed that my religion’s god was the same god Muslims worshipped. Even though my religion teaches divine duality and Islam teaches divine oneness and so on, my religion is nevertheless Abrahamic as well, and therefore we share a common origin, even though we have almost no essential doctrinal similarities.

Hopefully you begin to see the picture. Clearly according to an Islamic perspective, my religion shares no common origin with Islam, is not Abrahamic and is an irrelevant counterfeit. To say that Allah is the same as the god of my religion because the two share a common divine origin is to accept my religion’s narrative from the start and ipso facto reject Islam. It becomes all the more ridiculous when liberal “Muslims” demand real Muslims to accept the fact that Allah and this god are the same object yet with different attributes. They are the same object by merit of their common origin with Abraham, but merely described in hopelessly contradictory ways. These liberal Muslims somehow do not realize that Islam denies the truth of this new religion, denies its common divine and Abrahamic origin, and denies that Muslims can simultaneously be Muslim and accept a religious narrative that denies the Islamic faith.

Likewise, Corey demands that Christians, as Christians, accept the idea that Islam shares a common divine and Abrahamic origin with Christianity. In reality, Christians deny that Islam stems from either of these. Instead, Christians affirm that Islam was made up by an otherwise insignificant Arab warlord who was ignorant of Christianity and ignorant of the very scriptures referenced so often in the Qur’an.

Corey’s entire article is predicated upon an assumption that can only be affirmed by those who believe in the Islamic narrative to begin with. But since Christians repudiate this Islamic narrative, we have no theological obligation to affirm Muslims and Christians share the same object of worship, namely, the God of Abraham. To the contrary, Christians, in order to be Christians, reject that Islam can truly be traced back to the biblical Abraham, and therefore deny that the Christian God and the Islamic Allah are the same in any sense. Keep this in mind as we examine more of Corey’s article.

“And this is where we can say all three religions do in fact worship the same God, as all three religions are pointing to, offering worship, and attempting to describe, the same object…Here’s where we’re at: all three religions are offering worship the same object, and that is Abraham’s God– though they might use different terminology…”

Corey assumes that this object that the three religions worship is “the God of Abraham.” However, Corey fails to realize that what Christians call “Abraham” is different from what Muslims call “Abraham”. Not only does Corey equivocate each religion’s deity, but he equivocates what is meant by “Abraham” in order to support the thesis. Not only is Corey’s thesis false but his supporting evidence is also false.

Here is a basic lesson on how words work. Words refer to things. These things that words refer to are called referents. So, when we use the word “dogs”, it refers to things in the world, namely, dogs, and these dogs are the word’s referent. (There are entire philosophical theories on the nature of reference that you can read about here that I cannot address in this post.) When Christians use the word “Abraham” we are referring to the historical figure described to us in the Biblical narrative. When Muslims use the word “Abraham” they are referring to the man described in the Qur’an. When we compare these referents, we discover that they are very different from one another; they are not the same. Therefore, to say that Islam is an “Abrahamic” religion is not the same thing as saying that Christianity is an “Abrahamic” religion, because both religions have a different understanding of who Abraham was. Therefore to say that Islam and Christianity are Abrahamic religions in the same sense is to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

Let’s examine another analogy. What if I claim my made-up religion previously mentioned is Abrahamic just like Islam. But instead, my religion teaches Abraham was an unmarried Japanese woman, not an Arab prophet responsible for building the Kaaba and fathering sons. To say that both religions are “Abrahamic” would be nonsense; this would equivocate two completely different meanings of the same word. Likewise, to say that Christianity and Islam are both “Abrahamic” is an equivocation. The Islamic Abraham, according to Christians, is no more the real Abraham than a Japanese woman is.

Since we cannot even ascribe the same Abraham to both religions, it is beyond outrageous to say that we can ascribe the same deity to both religions. So, here is a summary of what we have learned:

(1) To assert Islam originates from Abraham or genuinely shares a common divine origin with Christianity contradicts Christianity and affirms the truth of Islam. Therefore, Christians, by definition, deny that Islam shares a common origin with Christianity.

(2) The only sense in which we can say that Christians and Muslims strive to worship the same deity is by asserting they all strive to worship “the God of Abraham”. However, Muslims and Christians do not refer to the same Abraham.

(3) Because the Christian notion of who Abraham is and the Muslim notion of who Abraham is is equivocal, to say that Muslims and Christians both worship “the God of Abraham” is likewise equivocal. Therefore, Muslims and Christians do not strive to worship the same object. They do not worship the same God.

Though this is sufficient to refute Corey’s thesis that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I want to respond to some of his other comments.

Corey repeatedly argues that ascribing different attributes to the same object does not mean that they are two different objects. He makes the object “the God of Abraham” whereas Tawheed and the Trinity are mere attributes of this object. Here, Corey considers the Islamic conception of Tawheed and the Christian conception of the Trinity similar to how we would regard hair length. In the same way that I am the same person regardless of whether or not I have short or long hair, “the God of Abraham” is the same object regardless of whether or not he is Tawheed or a Trinity.

However, these are not petty attributes of a higher conception of God. The Islamic conception of God cannot be separated from Tawheed, neither can the Christian conception of God be separated from the Trinity. These are not mere attributes describing a common object, but are mutually exclusive divine characteristics defining the essence of each religion’s conception of God.

Just think with me for a moment. If the Trinity is a mere attribute of the same God Muslims believe in, then that means that Jesus Christ Himself is a mere attribute of a higher conception of God. This means that, according to Corey, Jesus Christ himself is not essential to our Christian understanding of God.

In opposition to Corey, 1 John 5:20 says Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15 teach that Jesus Christ is the very image and likeness of God. All that it means to be God is found in the person of Christ. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is creator. Jesus is God.

Islam, on the other hand, says the exact opposite. Jesus is not what it means to be God. Jesus is not Lord. Jesus is not the creator. Jesus was merely a prophet.

Christians say that Jesus Christ is God. Muslims say Jesus is not God. Christians and Muslims do not merely ascribe different attributes to the same object, rather, the identity of each group’s object of worship is completely different. Jesus is not a part nor a mere attribute of the God of Abraham, Jesus is the God of Abraham. Since Muslims deny that Jesus Christ is the God of Abraham, Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

I recognize that I still have not dealt with all of Corey’s challenges and claims, like his false claim that there are 40,000 versions of Christianity or that Christians and religious Jews worship the same God. I am happy to deal with these questions later if anyone asks, but for now, I have proven beyond doubt that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. It astounds me that this needs to be explained to some people. Yet here we are. Corey’s blog post proves yet again that theological liberalism, or what Patheos calls “progressive Christianity,” is a mess of disinformation and fallacious argumentation. It is not Christianity at all.

Myth-Makers

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”‭‭ (2 Timothy‬ ‭4:3-4‬)

People often quote 2 Timothy 4:3-4 to oppose theology contrary to their own. “Sound teaching” is always defined as whatever doctrines the person quoting these verses believes in. Because of this, these two verses offer no help in refuting specific theological doctrines, but only describe some of the characteristics of those who turn away from good doctrine. There are two main characteristics these people display: (1) They listen to doctrine that “suits their own passions”, and (2) they “wander off into myths”. My favorite quotations from John Calvin’s institutes are his descriptions of those who conform doctrine to their own passions, rather than conforming their passions to good doctrine just as 2 Timothy 4 says. These people,

“do not conceive of [God] in the character in which he is manifested, but imagine him to be whatever their own rashness has devised.” (Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1)

By conforming (i.e. distorting) doctrine to suit their own passions, they accept erroneous ideas and reject true ones. Soon, people try to fit these erroneous ideas into a consistent theological system, smoothing out blatant contradictions, and inventing new categories to better explain themselves. These new categories take this fabricated theology one step further, and eventually necessitate the development of even more categories to explain the original ones. The end result is a theological structure whose component parts are based upon a foundation of erroneous doctrinal assumptions, which were first invented for the purpose of suiting one’s own passions. This exercise of systematizing and expounding upon these invented doctrines is a mythologizing process. When a person believes false doctrine to suit their passions – if they have any degree of self-awareness at all – they will subject these beliefs to this reasoning process, drawing out implications, denials, conclusions, invent new categories, produce new speculations, and by doing so, they wander off into myths.

Don’t misunderstand me, I admit we are all prone to biases. We all, in some form or another, conform ideas to suit our predispositions. This is unavoidable until we appear with Christ in glory. But, there are degrees of theological myth-making. The Gnostics began with the assumption that material things are evil. From this they concluded that Jesus couldn’t have truly become flesh since this would make him evil. Because of this, they denied the incarnation, excluding themselves from the faith, and were denounced by the apostle John as antichrists in 1 John 4:3. They began with an assumption that suited their intellectual predispositions, drew conclusions from this false assumption, and wandered off into theological myths. In this post, I want to talk about similar case of theological myth-making more relevant than the gnostic heresy.

I’m talking about the process of myth-making that stems from a belief in human free will. An article called, ARE EVANGELISM AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY FOR SIN RATIONAL IN CALVINISM?, posted on a website called “Wintery Knight”, exemplifies this mythology. However, the author’s assumption of free will, and subsequent consideration of Molinism, begins with an even more basic assumption than free will. That assumption is this:

“If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do.”

Since God clearly holds people responsible for what they do, and people hold other people responsible for what they do, our actions must be self-caused – not caused by anything external to ourselves. This self-causation means that the will causes its own decisions. Since the will is self-caused, it is free from other constraints, and is a free will.

Since all humans have this free will, that must mean God does not control or cause our wills. Rather, “God respects [people’s] FREE WILL.” Because God lets people have free will, he doesn’t force his love on them, even though he is trying to save them. After all, “God wants [all people] to be saved, and it is their free choice that prevents it.” And so, human free will thwarts the will of God in salvation.

Many more implications of human free will could be cited, but the basic picture has been drawn. The original assumption, “If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do”, leads to a whole series of other conclusions. It proves human free will, disproves divine determinism, shows how God doesn’t force his love on us, that salvation is a matter of human choice… And yet, for all of the article’s reasoning and philosophizing, it fails to justify, or even critically consider this basic assumption. The only supporting evidence the author gives us is the following analogy:

“Just think for a minute. If I push you into someone and you fall into them and then they fall off a cliff, then are you a murderer? No – I would be, because I am the cause.”

The analogy fails, because it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that God is the Creator and not a creature. The same analogy could be used to disprove Noah’s flood and hell. What if a family of eight created a world-wide flood that killed everyone except for them? What if I pushed someone into a pit of everlasting torment? We would all be worse than murderers for doing these things, but would God also be a murderer? Of course not, since all Christians agree that God is righteous for doing these things. Many actions that are unjust for us to do are righteous for God. Another example is that it is sin for us to take vengeance on others, but righteous for God to do so (Romans 12:19-20). Wintery Knight’s analogy fails because it compares God to a man who pushes another man into someone who then falls off a cliff. It is certainly unjust when a person does this, but to extend the analogy to God is fallacious and simple-minded.

The only justification the article provides for believing free will is necessary for moral responsibility is based on a false analogy. This assumption has not been proven. In fact, it cannot ever be proven because scripture does not ever teach it. This assumption is a case of Wintery Knight believing false principles to suit their own passions, and by drawing conclusions from these false principles, they wander off into myths.

Before I say more about how free will is not necessary for God to hold us accountable, I want to analyze more of the article’s claims. It references D.A. Carson’s list of 9 supposed problems with the Calvinistic view and the Bible’s teaching on free will. The writer of Wintery Knight then reformulates these 9 points in their own words.

1. On Calvinism, when God or his agents exhort or command people to perform good actions, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so that they can perform the good actions.

The author contends that God’s commands are meaningless unless God presupposes human free will and ability to fulfill his commands. This is absurd. This assertion demonstrates the author’s misunderstanding of the purpose of God’s law. The purpose of God’s commands are not so that we can fulfill them, but for increasing our trespass (Romans 5:21), so that we have no hope of salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22). I wrote about the purpose of the law already in my post called Ministry Of Condemnation. God’s commands establish a standard beyond our abilities; they are not made to conform to our abilities. The purpose of God’s commands under the Old Covenant were to condemn, but now in the New Covenant, Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. And those who believe are God’s elect, called according to his purpose.

2. On Calvinism, when God or his agents tell people to obey, believe and choose God, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so they can obey, believe and choose God.

This objection is indistinguishable from the previous, so I will just expand upon what I have already said. How human inability could possibly make God’s commands meaningless is not explained. Through God’s commands we know what God requires of us, but imperatives say nothing about human freedom. It is horrifying that D.A. Carson and William Lane Craig would make these basic errors that Martin Luther has already addressed centuries ago in his Bondage of the Will:

“Even grammarians and schoolboys on street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by words in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done.”

These people jump upon God’s imperatives, but imperatives do not state whether or not the individual can fulfill the imperative. Martin Luther calls those who think this “twice as stupid as schoolboys”. Here is an example of an imperative from scripture:

“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezekiel 18:31)

The free will theologians absurdly conclude, “Look! This means that we have the ability to make ourselves a new heart and spirit!” However, Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 explain that it is not the people who make themselves a new spirit, but God:

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh”

So, even though the people do not and cannot make themselves new hearts, and even though it is actually God who must give them new hearts (regeneration), God still commands them to make themselves new hearts. Why? Because this is what God demands from each one of us. Even though it is God who must “work in us, to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), this does not render God’s commands meaningless. God is the one who causes us to obey. In the very next verse in Ezekiel 36:27, God says that he gives them a new heart to “cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God causes his people to obey, and he does this through controlling our wills. We know his standards through his commands, and it is God’s decision whether or not he causes us to obey.

3. On Calvinism, when people sin and rebel against God, it’s like people are soda cans that God shakes up some of them, and then pops the tabs on all of them and the ones he shook up fizz.

This is a perfect example of how analogies are able to obscure ideas that are otherwise easy to understand. This is supposed to be an explanation of the fact that “people sin and rebel against God”, proving free will exists. To the contrary, God causes people to sin, so human sin does not prove that we are outside of God’s control. God causes people to sin and to be stupid everywhere in scripture (e.g. Jeremiah 13:13, Job 12:24, Acts 4:27-28). Sin is not a case of human autonomy, but of human rebellion against God’s law. God commands us to do things and then causes us to disobey his commands whenever we disobey. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 states that God causes some people to believe what is false so that they will be condemned. See, when we just start quoting scripture, and when we stop drawing irrelevant, rationalistic conclusions from biblical themes (like imperatives imply free will), then free will is immediately disproved, and all of these objections are exposed for the vacuous counterfeits they are.

4. On Calvinism, when God judges people for sinning, it’s like God sends the cans who don’t fizz to Hell for eternity, even though he unilaterally chose not to shake them, which is the only way they could fizz.

Yeah? So what? Restating the Calvinist position with a weird soda can analogy does not amount to an objection. God causes the reprobate to sin and then he punishes them for the sin he caused them to commit. Now to clarify, these people did not sin contrary to their own wills, as if they were “forced” to sin. We cannot ever fight back against God’s control, but rather, to give an example, God controlled Pharaoh’s will to such an extent that Pharaoh wanted to pursue the Israelites. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh would pursue Israel, and then God killed him in the Red Sea to glorify himself (Exodus 14). If this is not your God, then you do not know God.

5. On Calvinism, when God tests people, it’s meaningless, because there is no way they can pass the tests unless God unilaterally regenerates them first, so they can pass the test.

The word “meaningless” is once again not explained, but is assumed within a false theological paradigm. I could as easily say that God’s testing is meaningless unless purple dragons exist. Why? God knows all things and determines all things, including all outcomes. God doesn’t test to gain knowledge, but to refine his people through the means of fire and trial, which he places in our paths in the first place. There’s nothing self-contradictory or problematic about any of this, and calling it meaningless is not an argument. You may dislike it, but to say it is meaningless is not an objection.

6. On Calvinism, when people receive divine rewards, it’s meaningless, because all the credit goes to God for regenerating them. They are just fizzing because he shook the can.

Why’s this meaningless? God glorifies himself, and if you think God’s self-glorification is meaningless, then you are not a Christian. John Calvin specifically replies to this nonsense:

“They add, that unless virtue and vice proceed from free choice, it is absurd either to punish man or reward him…[They say] ‘If grace acts in us, grace, and not we who do the work, will be crowned’…In regard to the rewards of righteousness, is there any great absurdity in acknowledging that they depend on the kindness of God rather than our own merits? How often do we meet in Augustine with this expression,—’God crowns not our merits but his own gifts'”

God does not reward us for our own merits. That’s the point! This is theology 101. Salvation is by grace through faith. And if it is by grace, then this means that we are not rewarded according to our own merits, but according to God’s merits which he graciously gives us through Christ. Salvation is not rewarded to me as if I worked for it, because this would make salvation no longer a gift: “to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (Romans 4:5). But rather, I am rewarded for the work of another – Jesus Christ. If you think that our salvation is meaningless because God gets all the glory, you are not a Christian. The very purpose of our salvation is first and foremost the glory of God. God saves his elect primarily to glorify himself, and secondarily because he loves us. God is glorified; we are not. To the contrary, we will say,

“We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

7. On Calvinism, when people respond to God’s initiative, it’s meaningless, because God’s regeneration is irresistible and irrevocable. They can do nothing other than fizz when he shakes the can.

Why’s it meaningless? To put the author of the article on the defensive, how does believing in a powerless god make human decisions meaningful? This is never explained, so we can ignore this.

8. On Calvinism, when people pray, it’s meaningless, because God unilaterally decides whether to regenerate people or not, and all their fizzing comes solely from his decision to shake or not shake the can.

God’s control of all things is the very notion that gives prayer meaning. It is meaningless to pray to a powerless god to change somebody’s heart when that god doesn’t interfere with human free will. Number 8’s assertion stems from a misunderstanding of prayer. The purpose of prayer is first an foremost to bow to the will of God. I talk about the purpose of prayer in another blog post. In comparison, praying to a powerless god who doesn’t even have the capabilities to answer your prayers makes prayer meaningless, not the Calvinist position.

9. On Calvinism, when God pleads with sinners to repent and be saved, it’s meaningless, because God has to unilaterally regenerate them before they can repent.

This is the same objection as in case 1 and 2. God commands believers everywhere to repent and believe (Acts 17:30), yet he ordains those who will believe. This doesn’t make his commands meaningless, but communicates to us what his standards are.

Now that I have responded to some of the content of the article, I want to address the author’s assumption:

“If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do.”

I have already written about this topic in a few blog posts: Arbitrary and UnjustEnthymeme, and Leighton Flowers Takes Advantage of Reformed Teachers’ Confusion on Compatibilism.

The article’s assumption is false. God holds us morally accountable for the actions he causes us to do. It’s that simple. God doesn’t bow to moral standards external to himself, but rather God is the standard of morality. Since God is the standard of morality, God does not sin when he causes us to sin. When he causes us to sin, he holds us accountable, not because we are free, but because God is sovereign, and he has the right to call us to account for our actions. This is what Romans 9:19-21 explicitly teaches:

You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

Romans 9 teaches that God is justified for doing what he wishes with his creation. You might say, “But this is unfair!”, but God is the one who defines what is fair. “This is immoral!”, but God defines what is moral. “God has no right!”, but no, he actually does. To object to God’s actions is to assume that God is not who he says he is.

Scripture demands, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” or “What have you done?” (Job 9:12, Daniel 4:35). But free will theologians demand this of God to no end. They inquire of God and demand him to conform to their passions and predispositions. They form entire mythologies called “Molinism”, “middle knowledge”, and “prevenient grace” to escape from the teaching of scripture, and to establish human autonomy. They writhe in intellectual pain at the thought that they are not ultimately in control of their own lives and destinies, but were rather created by the Creator according to his own purposes, for through him and for him all things were made (Colossians 1:16). They do not accept him as he has manifested himself, but consider him to be whatever their own rashness has devised.

The result of their rebellion leads to philosophical incompetence, and theological myth-making. An example of their philosophical incompetence is claiming that imperatives imply human ability to fulfill the imperatives, and free will is the zenith of theological mythology.

In closing, to restate my answer to the article’s title, ARE EVANGELISM AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY FOR SIN RATIONAL IN CALVINISM?, of course it’s rational. It isn’t rational if we assume free will is necessary for responsibility, but once we reject this false assumption and let scripture speak for itself, we see that free will is irrelevant. God directs our minds and decisions in whatever ways he sees fit, and he calls us account for our actions. God is glorified as the potter, and we are the clay. This is what it means for God to be God. God has the right to do as he pleases, and we must not object to his decrees, for, “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’” (Isaiah 45:9). Rather, let us be thankful to the one who has saved us by his grace, and rest in his promises to restore us back to himself through Jesus Christ. Stop demanding that God fit within the framework of your own mythologies, but accept the Lord as he has revealed himself to us in his holy word.

Leighton Flowers Takes Advantage of Reformed Teachers’ Confusion on Compatibilism

Leighton Flowers is a pastor and staunch opponent of Calvinism, using his blog site and podcast to critique Calvinistic doctrines and teachers. In his post called Does God Bring About The Abuse Of Children For His Own Glory?, Flowers argues that teachers and authors like John Piper, John MacArthur, and Justin Taylor engage in a type of doublespeak when they talk about God’s sovereignty. On the one hand, it appears that they affirm that God actively controls all things, but on the other hand, because of their compatibilism, they affirm that God passively determines sin and evil. So whereas Piper is quoted as saying:

God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will….he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory”

John MacArthur is quoted as saying:

“God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work”.

In response, Flowers asks a simple question:

“So, which is it?”

The difference presented in these two quotations is that God either (1) actively brings about the events he ordains, or he (2) passively permits evil agents to bring about the events he ordains. Since active and passive are mutually exclusive, one must be affirmed and the other must be denied. The fact that two leading Calvinist teachers have made unclear statements on the issue, Flowers asserts, demonstrates the confused state of Calvinist theology, and it ought to be abandoned in favor of libertarian free will. What I would first like to do is to make a few comments about Leighton Flowers, explicitly state his arguments, and then give my own theological analysis of these important issues.

Leighton Flowers

It is difficult for me to have respect for anyone who knowingly places their preferences over the teaching of scripture. What I mean is that Leighton Flowers (along with Roger Olson) begins with an assumption that cannot ever be corrected with scriptural teaching. For Flowers, it does not matter what scripture says; his prior biases must be true in order for him to continue in the faith. So, rather than renouncing Christianity, Flowers prefers to remain in Christianity by intentionally conforming it to his own preferences. In a comment response on his blog post, Does God Hate The Unborn?, Flowers says he would rather burn in Hell forever than believe in divine election. He says,

“I wish not to be saved by a god who would do this. I’d rather burn.”

Here is the full text of this section of his comment for your reference:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 4.14.05 PM

Flowers follows Roger Olson in placing emotional intuition as the evaluative criterion of theological doctrine. Calvinism cannot be true because the emotion that it evokes within him is not a feeling of awe or praise, but it evokes in him a feeling of abhorrence and repulsion. In order for God to be acceptable to Flowers, God must make Flowers feel good. The justification for all of this is that God created human beings with emotions, and so these emotions must be sufficient to delineate true doctrine from false doctrine.

Of course, my emotions are the opposite, along with many other believers. I could just as easily say that Flowers’ libertarian free will god is repulsive to me, and therefore my rejection of his god is justified on the same grounds. His emotions are no more or less valid than my own. However, one of the most basic truths of the Christian faith is that it does not matter what we feel: truth is truth whether we like it or not. Those who intentionally place their emotions as judge over God’s word attempt to formulate a theology “to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). We must strive to conform our passions and intellectual predispositions to the teaching of the Bible, not vice-versa.

The bottom line is that Flowers emphatically cannot believe in a God who predestines some to glory and others to Hell. It does not matter if scripture teaches it; it cannot be true. Hence, his authority is not scripture, but what he thinks scripture ought to teach.

The Article

Back to the article, Flowers’ thesis is very similar to Jerry Walls’ presentation, called, “What’s Wrong With Calvinism“, and so I will formulate Flowers’ argument along the same lines. The argument Walls makes goes something like this:

(1) Traditional Calvinists believe in compatibilism as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith;

(2) Compatibilism states that free will is compatible with divine determinism;

(3) However, this free will is not true freedom, since it is not freedom from God’s determinative control but only free in relation to the individual’s desires;

(4) God still predestines people to Hell in compatibilism, since compatibilist free will is an arbitrary kind of free will;

(5) It’s absurd to say that the Calvinist God loves everybody in any meaningful way, since he still ordains the damnation of the reprobate;

(6) God clearly loves everybody and wants to save everyone, as even John Piper and D.A. Carson confess;

(7) Therefore, Calvinism should be rejected in favor of libertarian free will theology.

In a similar way, Flowers’ objection in his article involves him arguing the incoherency of compatibilism in the context of Reformed theology. Within compatibilism, God still predestines and controls all things, so in what sense can God be passive? Also, since God must not be the author of sin, how can Calvinists maintain their determinist position without making God the cause of sin and evil? As Flowers concludes, not only is our theology supposedly contradictory, but our teachers also contradict one another:

“Do you see the contradiction as it exists even within the ranks of Calvinism?”

Thus, he concludes by saying that Calvinism devolves into irreconcilable contradictions and nonsense. As a result, Flowers proposes a different theology. We ought to reject determinism in favor of libertarian free will in order to overcome these theological difficulties.

My Solution

There are aspects of the above argument that I wholeheartedly agree with, but I absolutely reject Flowers’ and Walls’ solution. It is true that most Calvinist teachers and theologians (at least the popular ones) are confused on these matters and end up contradicting themselves and one another. They sometimes respond by appealing to the fact that they are trying to do justice to all scriptural teaching, and that this synthesis necessarily involves profound difficulties like paradoxes, mystery, and apparent contradiction. Take, for instance, Louis Berkhof’s comments in his systematic theology about God’s providence over creation and salvation:

“God decrees to sustain [people’s] free agency, to regulate the circumstances of their life, and to permit that free agency to exert itself in a multitude of acts, of which some are sinful. For good and holy reasons He renders these sinful acts certain, but He does not decree to work evil desires or choices efficiently in man. The decree respecting sin is not an efficient but a permissive decree, or a decree to permit, in distinction from a decree to produce, sin by divine efficiency…The problem of God’s relation to sin remains a mystery for us, which we are not able to solve.” (Berkhof 116-117)

Berkhof begins by repeating the traditional doctrine of God’s passive control over sin and evil. This passive control is necessary to prevent God from being the author of sin. He then says that although this control is passive, God nonetheless “renders these sinful acts certain”. But this assertion immediately prompts us to ask: How is this possible? How can God passively control the sin of free creatures, yet also render their sinful actions certain? Berkhof never explains this, but instead skirts around the issue, saying that God’s relation to sin is a mystery that we are never able to solve, and therefore we will also never be able to know how God can passively render sinful actions certain. On this point, I agree with Flowers when he says:

“This all boils down to what a Calvinist means when he uses the word “PERMIT.” Like so many other words in our vocabulary, the Calvinist is forced to put a bit of a spin on the clear meaning of this term in order to maintain their systems [sic] presumptions.”

Although it’s ironic that Flowers would find fault with others distorting doctrines and definitions to suit their presumptions – since Flowers himself admits to committing this sin, being a necessary component of his theological methodology – he is right when he says that people like Piper, MacArthur, and Berkhof are guilty of purposeful ambiguity. When these teachers face this dilemma head-on, they are often guilty of incompetence and confusion. What could it possibly mean for God to passively render events certain? What could it possibly mean for humans to be free agents, yet our actions are certain? It appears to Flowers, Walls, and myself, that these teachers appropriate familiar bits of terminology for the purpose of pretending their doctrinal formulations avoid particular difficulties, when in reality they not only succeed in obfuscating the issues, but also fail to avoid the difficulties they pretend to solve.

Given these problems, a solution is needed not only to avoid the theological heresy of libertarian free will, but to also reform the traditional “Reformed” formulation of these doctrines. Both a positive and a negative position is needed to fully refute Flowers’ attack on Calvinism. That is, a full refutation would involve a reformulation of Calvinist doctrine to avoid these objections, and a refutation of the tenability of libertarian free will would be necessary. For the sake of space and time, I will only focus upon the positive position, or the reformulation of Calvinist theology to answer these objections. A reasoned denunciation of libertarian free will must be found elsewhere for the time being. I will try to give a structured and clear account of the reformulation I propose for Calvinist theology. Also, for the sake of space, I will not exegete key passages like Romans 9, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, Matthew 23:37 in much detail, but rather, my purpose will be to prove the internal consistency of my reformulation of Calvinist doctrine.

1. Deny Compatibilism

Compatibilism must be denied not in favor of libertarian free will, but in favor of hard determinism. This is how I was able to agree with Flowers and Walls. We all agree that compatibilism is a useless and arbitrary category because it obscures the fact that it is, nonetheless, a determinist doctrine. Flowers quotes Phil Johnson as admitting:

Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism.”

Although there are some Calvinists who may challenge Johnson’s statement, and although Johnson does not here explain what he means by “hard determinism”, this statement explains that compatibilism does not make individuals free in reference to God.

“Free” is always a relational word. “Free” always means “free from something”. In a compatibilist framework, as Phil Johnson later explains and as Jerry Walls presents in his video, to have “free will” only means that individuals are free in reference to fulfilling their internal desires. It is not that I am free from God determining my actions, but that when I make these decisions to fulfill my desires, it is not done contrary to my will. Hence, when libertarian free will advocates say “free will”, they mean to say that they are free from God’s determinative control, whereas when compatibilists say “free will”, they mean to say that their wills are free to fulfill their desires.

Compatibilists are guilty of equivocation. To say that “free will” is compatible with divine determinism is a trivial claim, because this free will is not the same type of free will spoken of by libertarian free will advocates. To say that free will is compatible with divine determinism means nothing more than people make choices that are free in reference to their desires, and that God determines these desires and choices in the first place.

The only reason the Reformed tradition has clung to compatibilism is because these theologians believe that free will is a necessary prerequisite to moral responsibility. Many object that there is a tension between God’s sovereignty and humanity’s moral responsibility. Compatibilism is suppose to resolve this tension. Phil Johnson explains,

In order to understand [this problem] better theologians have come up with the term ‘compatibilism’ to describe the concurrence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.”

The function of the doctrine of compatibilism is to invent an equivocal notion of free will that will justify human responsibility. However, compatibilism fails to justify human responsibility given these premises, since compatibilism posits the existence of a different form of free will that has nothing to do with the original assumption. The original assumption is that free will is a necessary prerequisite to human responsibility. The “free will” spoken of in that statement is recognized by everyone to mean “free from God’s determinative control”. The Reformed tradition has not attempted to solve this issue, but has rather redefined the words of this original assumption. It would be like me redefining “free will” to mean “fingers”. Since I now have free will (i.e. fingers), I am therefore responsible to God for my actions. Or, I can redefine “free will” to mean “my will is free from a squirrel in Alaska”. Since I now have free will (i.e. my will is free from a squirrel in Alaska), I am therefore responsible to God for my actions. Compatibilism’s equivocal solution to the problem of human responsibility is fallacious. The problem remains unsolved given these premises.

The conclusion to all of this is that determinism is absolutely incompatible with both free will (properly defined) and the assumption that free will is the necessary prerequisite for human moral responsibility. Since this is the case, Calvinists ought to deny both. Humans are not free from God’s determinative control, and free will is not necessary for human responsibility. Those who say free will is necessary in order for humans to be accountable to God do not derive this principle from scripture. This assumption cannot ever be justified from a scriptural perspective.

The reason humans are morally culpable for their actions is because God chooses to hold us accountable. God is the moral standard. God does not bow down to moral standard external to himself, but rather, God himself establishes the rules of morality. God is just to hold us responsible for the things he determines us to do. To object to this is to echo the rhetorical question Paul poses in Romans 9:19, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'” Why does God still hold us accountable even though he is the one that determines our actions in the first place? Because he’s God and he has the right to to with his creation whatever he wants, and he is righteous for doing so.

In conclusion to this section, compatibilism is a doctrine that was invented to solve an non issue. All determinists, indeed all Christians, ought to deny that freedom from God is the necessary prerequisite to being held morally accountable by God. This assumption cannot be substantiated by scripture, but only by rationalistic conceptions of morality. This assumption also denies divine determinism in the first place. Since God clearly holds us morality accountable, to say that we must be free from God’s control for responsibility to be possible is tantamount to denying determinism. Compatibilism is an attempt to maintain a determinist position while conforming itself to a position which denies divine determinism by definition. Compatibilism is either fallacious, or irrelevant. It is a useless theory that has been proposed as a solution to a problem that is no problem at all, and which it cannot solve within a deterministic framework. Therefore, compatibilism should be disregarded.

2. Deny That God Loves Everyone and Wants All Saved

I affirm the 5th point and deny the 6th point of Flowers’ and Walls’ argument above. To say that God loves everybody and wants all saved, including the reprobate, is either a deceptive play on words, or it is absurd. Whereas these men accept God’s universal love and desire to save everybody as unquestionable, I deny both. Both assume that compatibilists will not want to go to my end of the Calvinist spectrum, regarding it as extreme. However, calling my position extreme or “hyper-Calvinism” is not refutation. Calvinists who refuse to admit that God hates the reprobate and doesn’t desire to save them for fear of being called “hyper-Calvinists” are both cowardly and intellectually dishonest. I will first discuss God’s will, then I will discuss God’s love.

a.) Reformed theologians such as John Murray have traditionally made two distinctions concerning the will of God. God has both a “decretive will” and “prescriptive will”. God’s will of decree is also sometimes referred to as his “secret will”, which often confuses non Calvinists and prompts them to mock us without end. The distinctions between these two wills is nothing but this: God’s decretive will refers to what God has eternally ordained to come to pass, and God’s prescriptive will merely refers to his commands. Often God’s “decretive will” contradicts his “prescriptive will” when he ordains sin and evil, like in Acts 4:27-28 where the saints confess that God predestined the actions of those who crucified Jesus.

This is why using the word “will” of both of these is problematic, since people who are ignorant of these issues will assume that Calvinists assert that God contradicts his own will, or that God is schizophrenic (Jesus says in Matthew 26:39, “not as I will, but as you will”, but this is a case of Christ’s human will submitting to the divine will of the Father, which is a separate issue). God’s “decretive will” and his “prescriptive will” are his will in two completely different senses. They are equivocal in meaning and not univocal.

The fact that both of these are God’s “will” in completely different senses helps to clarify the issue. In the context of God’s eternal decree, God does not will that all be saved, since he has decreed that not all will be saved. In the context of God’s commands, God does will for all to be saved, since he commands everybody to repent and turn to him in faith (Acts 17:30). To avoid confusion, we ought to call only God’s decretive will his will, whereas his prescriptive will is not necessarily what he decretively wills for us, but is what he requires of us. God’s prescriptive will is not his will for us per se, but is rather a list of moral commands that he requires we obey, and if we do not obey it, we are punished.

Therefore, the only sense in which a Calvinist – who believes in reprobation – can say that God wills everybody to be saved, is either by contradicting his own theology, positing a contradiction in the will of God himself, or that God wills all to be saved by merit of the fact that he commands everybody to repent and believe in him. This last option is the only tenable option, since the previous two are irrational. This demonstrates the need to clarify our terminology. No sane Calvinist believes that God wills everybody to be saved in the same way that Arminians, etc., believe God wills everybody to be saved. Hence, we deny that God wills everybody to be saved. For Flowers and Walls to assert that we ought to believe God wills everybody to be saved merely asserts that which we dispute. Compatibilism is useless or irrelevant, and it still forces us to believe that God does not want all saved. This theological position is only problematic when judged according to the standard libertarian free will theology. Since we deny libertarian free will theology in the first place, we are not bothered by their objections.

b.) In the same way that God’s “will” had to be clarified, God’s “love” must be clarified also. There are two different senses in which God is said to love an individual. The first sense is God’s specific love for his covenant people, and the second sense is God’s general beneficence to the elect and reprobate alike by giving them sunshine and rain.

In the context of this first type of love, God only loves the elect because this love is identified with God’s intention to save them. Since God has only decreed the salvation of the elect, this proves that he loves the elect alone, and ipso facto hates the reprobate.

In the context of the second type of love, Jesus speaks about this love in Matthew 5:44-45,

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The connecting word “for” indicates that Jesus gives a reason for why we ought to love our enemies. We ought to love our enemies since God makes the sun rise on his enemies, and also gives them rain. To clarify further, we ought to love our enemies because God the Father loves his enemies. He shows his love for them by giving them rain and sunshine. In the same way, Christians must show love for our enemies through acts of kindness.

Given these distinctions, God both loves and hates the reprobate. God hates the reprobate by merit of the fact that he has predestined them to eternal Hell, but he loves them in the sense that he gave them rain and sunshine while they were alive. Christians are likewise commanded to love and hate our enemies. Psalm 26:5, 31:6, 139:21-22 say:

“I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.”

“I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.”

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O LordAnd do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Christians are commanded to mirror the character of God by loving and hating our enemies. We love unbelievers through our outward acts of kindness towards them, but we hate their sinful actions and beliefs. Their sinful actions, thoughts, and beliefs cannot be separated from the unbeliever’s identity, and so we hate the unbeliever as a person. We ought to hate those who hate the Lord as Psalm 139 indicates.

Therefore, there are at least two different senses in which God and Christians can love. For Christians, one type of love involves external actions of general beneficence, and the other involves our stance in relation to another’s identity as defined by their actions and thoughts. For God, one type of love involves external actions of general beneficence, whereas the other type of love involves God’s intention to save an individual. For the latter definition of love, Calvinists by definition deny that God loves everybody. When any Calvinist says they believe God loves everybody, they either assert this in a non salvational sense, or else they believe that God simultaneously loves and does not love the reprobate, which is absurd.

When a free will theologian demands a Calvinist to tell them if they believe God loves everybody, there are at least two options: (1) The free will theologian uses the word “love” in relation to salvation, but the Calvinist will answer using “love” in relation to God’s general beneficence. What results is verbal confusion. (2) If the free will theologian and the Calvinist use the word “love” in the same sense, and if the Calvinist affirms that God loves everybody, this Calvinist is irrational.

Therefore, God does not love everybody, and neither does he will everybody to be saved. Theologians like John Piper and John MacArthur are either extremely confused, or applying secondary definitions to these words without telling anyone how they are defining them.

3. Affirm God Actively Causes All Things

To say that God passively determines anything is meaningless. It is self-contradictory. To say that God determines something is to say that he actively causes it and vice-versa. Berkhof had to appeal to mystery to support his claim that God permissively renders sinful actions certain, because it does not make sense. In opposition to libertarian free will, and in opposition to these Calvinist teachers, we ought to affirm that God is never passive in his control of events, but rather, is always active.

The only reason given by the Reformed tradition for why God cannot actively cause sin and evil is because this makes him the author of sin. The phrase “author of sin” is metaphorical and vague, so I will explicitly define author of sin as “God himself actively causes all evil”. Because this is unacceptable, yet God still ordains whatsoever comes to pass, the Reformed tradition has postulated that God must decree sin passively without actually actively causing it. So the question now is this, how can I affirm that God actively causes all things without making God the author of sin?

The answer is obvious: I don’t try. In fact, according to my definition above, I affirm that God is the author of sin. Just like the previous assumption, that free will is the necessary prerequisite of moral responsibility, believing that God cannot be the author of sin is an unwarranted and unbiblical claim. The Bible emphatically teaches that God causes all sin and evil.

John MacArthur is quoted as saying:

“Many Scriptures affirm that God is not the author of evil…Occasionally someone will quote Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) and claim it proves God made evil as a part of His creation: ‘I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.’

But the New American Standard Bible gives the sense of Isaiah 45:6-7 more clearly: ‘There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.’ In other words, God devises calamity as a judgment for the wicked. But in no sense is He the author of evil.”

I do not assert that “God made evil as a part of his creation”. That is a non sequitur, but I do affirm that God actively caused the Fall of Adam. Notice how MacArthur is not giving us the full story. He says that the NASB gives us the better sense of the Hebrew word “ra” when instead of being translated as “evil” in the KJV, the NASB translates it as “calamity”. He implies that the verse cannot be teaching that God creates moral evil, but only natural calamities like famines and earthquakes. But this is completely false. The word “ra” is used to speak about sin and moral evil throughout the Old Testament. Here are just a few of the verses that use “ra” in this moral sense:

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

“And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21)

“But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” (Genesis 38:7)

The Hebrew word “ra” is a catch-all term that can denote physical disaster or moral evil. To say that the NASB translates the word more accurately is an arbitrary judgement which ignores the fact that the word is commonly translated as sin, wickedness, and moral evil. Therefore, from this basis, God does in fact create, form, and determine sin. But even if you do not accept this argument, the very form of the verse itself indicates this: No matter what the issue may be, God is the one who accomplishes (asah) all of these things. Whether it is light or darkness, God causes these and everything in between. He plans it, determines it, and causes it. God accomplishes (asah) all of these things; in the same way Ecclesiastes 3:14 teaches that,

whatever God does (asah) endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it…”

Therefore scripture teaches that God has eternally planned and determined whatever it is that comes to pass, actively causing it and bringing it about. This is the Biblical position.

Though God causes all sin and evil, this does not make God himself sinful and evil. One must begin with the assumption that God would be evil if he actively caused sin, but this assumption cannot ever be proven and is unbiblical. Once again, to be clear, even though God actively causes all sin, along with everything else, this does not make God himself evil, since God is not the agent performing the sin, but the one causing other agents to sin. God has never forbid himself from causing sin, and so he is not breaking any moral law that would cause him to be evil. On the contrary, God is the moral law, and is righteous by definition.

These premises necessarily entail an affirmation of equal ultimacy. R.C. Sproul describes this view disparagingly in his article “Double” Predestination. Equal ultimacy affirms that,

“There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative.”

Another way of describing the doctrine is in Berkhof’s terms, that God’s working of sin into the lives of all people is not merely a passive decree, but efficient. All of this is just another way of saying that God actively (NOT passively) causes his elect and reprobate to sin. God redeems the elect from the sin he actively causes them to commit, and God condemns the reprobate for the sin he actively causes them to commit, as Sproul comments again:

“This…positive-positive predestination clearly makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly coerces man to do.”

Whereas Sproul has a serious qualm about the doctrine, I assert that this is what scripture teaches, and any other reading of Romans 9 is erroneous and nonsensical. God does not passively create vessels of wrath or passively fit them for destruction. There are countless places in scripture that teach God actively causes people to sin. He hardens hearts to make people believe lies (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12), he causes rulers of nations to invade other nations in a wicked manner (2 Kings 19:25), and he actively caused the Pharisees to have murderous thoughts leading to Christ’s death (John 11:51, Acts 4:27-28). I will not provide an exhaustive list of these verses since I have written enough already, but these are a sample of the verses that prove my position.

To recap, the only reason compatibilism exists is to create an equivocal notion of free will to justify human responsibility. However, not only does this not solve the problem, but the problem is itself false. Free will is not necessary for moral responsibility to God, therefore free will can be rejected with no harmful repercussions to our theology. This faux free will that compatibilism provides us with is also necessary to prevent God from being the author of sin. God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, yet he passively ordains sin so as to prevent him from being the author or cause of it. However, there is no problem or contradiction with saying God actively causes sin. In fact, scripture explicitly teaches it in several places like in Isaiah 45:7. God actively causes evil, but this does not make God evil, since God has never commanded himself to not cause evil and then break this law that he commands himself. As for God’s universal love and will for all to be saved, this is either a verbal miscommunication, or is an example of inconsistency on the part of the individual Calvinist.

This is my answer to Leighton Flowers, to all Calvinists everywhere, and to all who believe the name of Christ. Some may argue that this reformulation is to drastic to still be called “Calvinism”. If this is the case, then I gladly accept the implications. If “Calvinism” is necessarily related to compatibilism and attempting to solve pseudo problems, then I deny Calvinism in favor of my reformulations and clarifications. To affirm libertarian free will is to believe in an incompetent and fickle god, whereas to believe in compatibilism as formulated by the Reformed tradition is either superfluous or internally incoherent. This position that I have presented is the only consistent and Biblical position. Glory to God alone. Amen.

Theory or Reality?

Some of the words we commonly use are vague. To fight against this vagueness, some people try to rigorously define these words to clarify their meaning. There are at least two possible outcomes to this:

1. A definition for the word cannot be found, either because there are too many rival definitions, or because the components of the definition all agree upon is too general to be useful.

or,

2. A definition for the word can be found, but it is so limited and precise in meaning that it seems to be unable to fully capture the concept it implies.

Simply put, the meaning of some of the words we use faces the problem of generality versus particularity, and non rational intuition versus rational exactitude. A word could have so general a meaning that the one using the word must rely on the non rational intuitions of those they are speaking to. Since the word in this scenario has no formal definition, there could arise confusion, equivocation, and sharp disagreement. On the flip side, when we want our definitions to be precise, we find that the definition we formulate seems to stop short of adequately signifying what we want it to signify. We find examples where we would normally call something “X”, but our prior definition excludes us from calling it “X” even though it seems proper to do so.

Since this is the case, it is possible to face serious categorical problems. How do we know when one thing fits into a category and when it does not? Are all or some of our categories arbitrary? Which of our categories are useful and which are nonsensical? Which of our categories and definitions seem to truncate reality and inhibit our ability to learn? Our linguistic categories and definitions are not trivial issues, but deeply epistemological, and have the potential to drastically influence how we speak about and interact with the world.

One example where this dilemma occurs is our definition of a line. Intuitively, we believe that two lines that are parallel to one another on a plane will never intersect. This is the case in Euclidean geometry, and looks like this:

fc_paralines_41731_md

No matter how far these lines extend in space, they will always be an equal distance apart. Simple enough right? However, what happens when we redefine what a line is? I am not asking what if we redefine “line” to mean “donkey”, but what if we base our definition of “line” upon different geometrical formulas and assumptions? What we get is elliptical and hyperbolic geometry.

As opposed to Euclidean geometry, both elliptical and hyperbolic geometry conceive of space as curved. Whereas Euclidean geometry considers lines as flat and two dimensional, the plane of elliptical geometry is three dimensional and spherical like this:

Long

Because space is curved like a sphere, eventually all straight lines will converge at the center point shown at the top. Therefore, “parallel lines” do not extend infinitely into space, remaining at an equal distance between one another, but eventually intersect.

As for hyperbolic geometry, its plane is shaped kind of like a horse saddle, or a Pringles chip:

Hyperbolic_space

Rather than the lines converge inward into themselves, as in elliptical geometry, the parallel lines in hyperbolic geometry diverge away from themselves. Once again, the difference between this account of a line and the other two is due to its different theory of space, because it is based up different fundamental theorems.

Altogether, if we had an arial view of all of these lines, they would look something like this:

2013-02-15-graphic4

In each of these examples, its conclusions are based on a prior theory or set of definitions. In Douglas R. Hofstadter’s book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, Hofstadter gives these three geometric paradigms as examples of how our prior theories and definitions shape our conclusions, saying:

“one can let the meanings of ‘point’, ‘line’, and so on be determined by the set of theorems (or propositions) in which they occur” (Hofstadter 93).

The way in which the alternate geometries were formed (elliptical and hyperbolic) was by mathematicians attempting to ground Euclid’s parallel lines in a set of theorems. The mathematicians would come up with these foundational propositions, and then try to conform it to Euclid’s definitions, much like how Procrustes would conform the length of his victims to the length of his bed. Whenever Procrustes’ victims were too short, he would stretch them out; whenever they were too long, he would chop off body parts. Likewise, mathematicians would find themselves in a similar situation when attempting to incorporate their theorems into a Euclidean framework. It was always too short or too long, and so they would labor to metaphorically lengthen or shorten their theorems to conform to the length Euclid’s geometrical bed.

However, as Hofstadter states above, instead of striving to conform these new theories to a previously accepted set of definitions (which were grounded upon intuition), why not instead allow the new theorems determine new definitions? If the basic propositions of hyperbolic geometry and elliptical geometry produce an internally consistent system, why must the validity of its definitions be judged in accordance with an alternate geometry, whose definitions were partially based upon mere intuition? With the advent of a new set of geometric axioms, a new paradigm in geometry was born:

“The [non Euclidean geometric] propositions are only ‘repugnant to the nature of the straight line’ if you cannot free yourself of preconceived notions of what ‘straight line’ must mean. If, however, you can divest yourself of those preconceived images, and merely let a ‘straight line’ be something which satisfies new propositions, then you have achieved a radically new viewpoint” (92).

By creating a new theory, our definitions seemed to inform us of something about reality, whereas previously it was thought that reality informed our theories. The purpose of theories (or definitions etc.) is to correctly represent or mirror the way things are, but the difficulty lies in this: in order to understand reality, we formulate theories and definitions which we think represent it, but in order to know whether or not our theories do correctly represent reality, we must know reality to begin with. This degenerates into a paradoxical circle, a story of the chicken and the egg. Which comes from which? How can reality judge the validity of our theories when we need our theories in order to conceptualize what reality is in the first place? The following is a diagram of this dilemma:

Isomorphism or Reality?

It seems like we must judge our theories in accordance with reality, but the reason we have theories is to conceptualize reality in the first place.

This paradox in knowledge is basically Meno’s Paradox found in one of Plato’s dialogues, only with a different flavor. While discussing the definition of virtue, Meno poses this epistemological dilemma to Socrates:

“And how will you search for something, Socrates, if you don’t know at all what it is? What sort of thing from among those you don’t know will you make the target of your search? Or even if you were to hit upon it with complete success, how will you know that this is the thing you didn’t know?” (Sedley 14).

In order to inquire about (“search for”) something, we must first know what it is. However, if we first know what it is, then we do not need to inquire about it since we would already know it. Socrates responds:

“For he [who searches] wouldn’t be searching for what he knows, since he knows it, and someone like that, at least, has no need to search; nor would he be searching for what he doesn’t know, since in that case he doesn’t even know what to search for” (14).

Here’s the example my professor gave. Suppose you wanted to know how to spell a word, and suppose that someone suggests to look it up in the dictionary. However, in order to look it up in the dictionary, you first have to know how to spell the word, since you need to know the order of the letters in the word so you can turn to the right page. Since you do not already know how to spell the word, you first need to know how to spell the word in order to look it up. In order to first search for it, we must know it, but if we already know it, then we no longer need to search for it. This diagram gives us one of the possible interpretations of the situation:

Spell to Dictionary

The result is paradoxical with no obvious solution. We must already have knowledge in order to learn, but doesn’t learning mean the acquiring of knowledge which we did not previously know? On and on the loop goes.

Whether it’s the definition of words or general concepts, this paradox poses a problem as to how we learn, and whether or not these theories truly represent the way things are. Perhaps our theories are only useful among ourselves and do not actually exist independently of us. Maybe they represent things in themselves and our minds extract meaningful information from the world. Or, maybe the information comes solely from our minds themselves, yet accurately correspond to the way things are. There are serious consequences for any answer given to this question.

Works Cited

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 2nd ed. New
York: Basic, 1999. Print.

Sedley, David, and Alex Long, eds. Plato: Meno and Phaedo. 2010: Cambridge
University, n.d. Print. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy.

Criticism of Roger Olson’s Claim that High Calvinism is Impossible

This is a response and critique of Roger Olson’s claim that High Calvinism is self-refuting and impossible. His article is called, “Why (High) Calvinism Is Impossible (with Special Reference to Romans 9)“. I will prove that Olson’s account fails to substantiate his thesis and is riddled with non sequiturs and faulty reasoning. I will provide clarity when clarity is needed and refutation when refutation is needed. His text will be in bold and quotations, while my response will be in regular text beneath.

“In one of his sermons against Calvinism, Methodist founder John Wesley famously remarked about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 that ‘Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.'”

Olson and Wesley have a bad habit of purposely imposing their preferences onto scripture. They have both habitually rejected scripture’s plain teaching based upon assumptions which they have not and cannot substantiate. One of my favorite quotes by John Calvin sums up their mindset: 

“Mingled vanity and pride appear in this, that when miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal stupidity” (Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1).

Of course, Roger Olson denies this, but he does this nonetheless. He begins with assumptions about what words like “good”, “evil”, or “justice” mean, and then uses these prior assumptions as a lens through which he will view everything else. He is incapable of correction because his thinking is both riddled with invalid logical inferences, and also because his authority is not scripture, but his carnal intuitions.

“I think many people, especially committed Calvinists, believers in so-called ‘double predestination,’ misunderstand Wesley’s comment. I have heard from them that Wesley, and I, simply bring to the Bible philosophical and theological presuppositions that predetermine what it can mean.”

I would indeed argue that this is the case. They begin with assumptions based in their emotions and carnal intuitions, and then they look for alternate reasons for their objections, since they know that objections which stem from emotions are ultimately trivial. In order to lend his emotional theology some credibility, Olson is striving to demonstrate that his objections are logical objections. If this were the case, then his arguments would wield a type of necessity to them. If he can show that it is necessarily true that high Calvinism is impossible based upon logical grounds, then he would have something to work with. I assure the reader that no such argument exists. Olson’s argumentation will devolve into him using Arminian premises to evaluate the validity of Calvinist doctrine. He will insert Arminian assumptions into Calvinist doctrines, and then boast about how incoherent high Calvinism is.

It is true that bringing presuppositions to the text of scripture is not unwarranted as such. For instance, if we know scripture teaches that God sends some people strong delusions so that they believe a lie in order that they be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12), we know that no other part of scripture will or can contradict that. If our assumptions are based in scripture itself, then bringing assumptions to an alternate text of scripture is justified. However, when these assumptions are baseless, that’s when we run into problems. Olson continues his discussion, saying that we need a certain amount of assumptions, or a priori concepts, in order to understand scripture. Let us see what a priori concepts he proposes.

“There’s a partial truth to that criticism, although I remind my (and Wesley’s) Calvinist critics that influential Reformed theologian Charles Hodge, in his influential three volume Systematic Theology, published in the 1870s, upon which many contemporary Calvinist systematic theologies are based, affirmed certain necessary a prioris, common sense principles, with which one must start in interpreting the Bible and theology.”

I haven’t read Hodge’s systematic, but there is a bit of truth to this. Logical inferences are one if these a priori tools we need when understanding scripture. The law of non contradiction is also necessary. Laws of logic and deduction are completely valid, and mirror the rational mind of Christ, who is the Logos. Other a priori principles can be found in analytic statements which require no external verification, e.g. all bachelors are single. We do not need to go out into the world to discover whether or not all bachelors are single, since this is true by definition, prior to external experience.

However, I take issue with calling a priori concepts “common sense”, since this phrase has been used to denote a wide variety of concepts. Until “common sense” is defined, it remains a vacuous phrase. Later on, Olson will relate “common sense” to our “intuitions”, and then he will use “intuition” as an evaluative criterion for determining the theological definitions of words which ought to be defined by scripture instead. He begins by connecting “common sense” to a priori concepts of the mind, but in subsequent paragraphs he will connect “common sense” to non rational intuitions. Basically, “common sense” is what our emotions dictate, and these “common sense” principles, derived from our emotions, will become Olson’s theological authority, not the teaching of scripture.

Olson is soon going to identify these common sensical principles with Arminian doctrine, over and against Calvinist doctrine. I assure you, “common sense” does not extend thus far. Those who tout “common sense”  are often unbiblical rationalists who succeed in concluding with that which is in dispute (begging the question), and succeed in touting objectivity, all the while being slaves of a particular bias.

“One of them is that God cannot do wrong.”

Let me remind the reader that God is the one who defines right and wrong to begin with. Olson is going to define something as wrong, and then impose this definition upon God without warrant. To give a few examples. God never says that he was wrong for killing all mankind except for 8 people, for hardening hearts, or for sending strong delusions to people so that they would believe a lie in order that they may be condemned. Keep this in mind when Olson discusses what he means by “wrong”. He’s going to fabricate a definition of wrong – a definition found nowhere in scripture – or he will base his definition upon insufficient biblical evidence by distorting the biblical evidence, and then say that the Calvinist God is wrong, and therefore God can’t be the Calvinist God.

“The context of his statement, which is found in the early chapters of Volume 1 of his Systematic Theology, makes clear that he means we must presuppose that God cannot do what is truly morally wrong.”

Of course. God also cannot lie. This is an analytic statement. By definition God can do no wrong since he is the definition of righteousness. He dictates what is or is not wrong. This is why God is justified when he predestines people to sin; God has never forbid himself from predestining sin, and then break the law he set himself under. Olson is going to say that God cannot do wrong – which is true – and then he will define “wrong” in an erroneous way. The issue involves this definition of wrong, and whether or not this definition is valid. We will find that Olson’s definition of wrong is invalid.

“He did not mean, with some nominalists-voluntarists such as medieval theologian Duns Scotus, the ‘subtle doctor,’ that whatever God would do would automatically be right just because God does it.”

God does not operate under any moral principle external to himself. That being said, it is true that if God lied or contradicted himself, then lying and contradiction wouldn’t be right just because God does it. However, if God lied or contradicted himself, then he wouldn’t be God. I agree that if, hypothetically, God lied, that wouldn’t make lying moral, but in this case, this would make us talk about a different God. Examining a hypothetical situation where God lies is as absurd as examining a hypothetical situation where not all bachelors are single. In this case, we would be replacing the definitions of “God” and “bachelors” with alternate definitions. Therefore, posing a hypothetical situation, like God lying, to prove that things are not morally right just because God does them, is insufficient to prove the point, since the example causes us to adopt a different definition of God, a definition that makes God not God.

In summation, everything that God does is indeed morally right just because he does it. He is the standard of righteousness and godliness. One doesn’t have to be a nominalist or voluntarist to affirm this. If Hodge denied this, then Hodge was wrong.

“Rather, he was basing his pre-conditioning claim on Thomas Reid’s “Scottish Common Sense Realism” for which there are certain universal ideas that only insane people would deny—such as the existence of other minds.”

If Hodge based his morality and doctrine of God partially on Thomas Reid’s facile philosophy, then Hodge was incredibly foolish. You can read my post on Thomas Reid where I argue that his philosophy is vague and degenerates into skepticism. Reid’s starting place was not scripture, and so he developed a faulty epistemology from the start. You can read my basic outline of biblical epistemology in my post Light of Men.

Common sense is a sham. Beginning with alien philosophies and then working our way back to scripture through the lens of these alien philosophies is an anti Christian methodology. If indeed this is what Hodge did, and if Olson is not misrepresenting Hodge, this lends no credibility to the idea of “common sense”, and certainly lends no credibility to the idea that “common sense” can refute Calvinism in particular, or the teaching of scripture in general. The preconditions for interpreting scripture are not universal, rationalistic “truths” made up by weak philosophers. We approach God as he has revealed himself; we do not evaluate God according to the standards of our autonomous philosophies. A Christian leans not on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). By contrast, Olson suggests that we should not “conceive of [God] in the character in which he is manifested” (i.e. the way in which God has revealed himself), but rather we ought to “imagine [God] to be whatever [our] own rashness has devised” (Calvins Institutes Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1).

“I take Wesley’s claim about Romans 9 farther and claim that it not only cannot mean ‘double predestination’—that God, from all eternity, foreordained certain individuals to be damned to hell for his glory and rendered it certain that they would be so damned—but that that Calvinist doctrine is logically impossible in the sense of being self-referentially defeating.”

I am familiar with self-reference; I wrote a blog post about it. Here Olson is asserting that Calvinism is not internally coherent even when it is judged according to its own standards. Ironically, Olson is going to smuggle in Arminian (or otherwise, erroneous) premises into this argument, and judge Calvinism according to this alternate paradigm. Once he makes Arminian conclusions, based upon Arminian premises, he will boast about how incoherent Calvinism is, even though the incoherence stems from not evaluating Calvinism on its own terms. I will indicate when he does this.

“By ‘impossible’ I don’t mean, of course, ‘doesn’t exist.’ I mean ‘exists but doesn’t work.’ By ‘doesn’t work’ I mean ‘cannot be believed consistently and coherently.’ Believing it undermines the very basis for believing it.”

Here he’s just explaining what self-contradiction is. The claim, “All sentences are false” undermines the claim it proposes, since if all sentences were false, that sentence would be false as well. Calvinism, says Olson, claims that Calvinism cannot be true.

“In brief, my argument is that belief in the Bible as God’s Word and motivation to engage in its exegesis presupposes belief that God is trustworthy, that God cannot deceive.”

God certainly never lies as Titus 1:2 says, but God can deceive people in the sense that he sends deceptive spirits and sometimes blinds people so that they believe falsehood. God never speaks falsehood, but God causes people to be stupid in many places in scripture.

It’s also a fun fact that God specifically says he deceives people in Ezekiel 14:9. He doesn’t deceive people by lying to them, but by controlling their minds so that they believe falsehood (2 Thessalonians 2:11) and wander in the dark without understanding (Job 12:24-25).

Beware of Olson’s ambiguities. I have defined what I mean when I say God does or does not deceive. Let us see if Olson defines his terms with the same rigor. False teachers often do not define their terms. It makes it easier for them to get away with bad arguments.

“But this assumes that God has a stable, enduring, eternal character that is ‘good’ in a way analogous to our highest and best intuitions of ‘goodness’—whatever their source may be.”

Not true actually. Why ought the definition of God’s “goodness” line up with our wicked intuitions? The idea of a God who sends people to hell forever certainly does not line up with the intuitions of many unbelievers. A God who consumes people with fire doesn’t line up with many people’s intuitions of good either (Leviticus 10), nor does a God who kills almost all of humanity in a flood. According to the intuitions of many people my age (early twenties), a God who doesn’t accept fornicators or homosexuals is a bad God.

Once we place intuitions, feelings, or our autonomous understanding as the criterion for evaluating biblical doctrines, anything goes. People have different intuitions, and often, scripture teaches that which is explicitly contrary to our intuitions. This is the case because we are fallen and corrupted. We are predisposed to false beliefs and rebellious inclinations. By God’s grace, God corrects our false intuitions through the teaching of his word and work of the Holy Spirit.

“Put another way, negatively, if one believes that God’s goodness is nothing like our best intuitions of goodness, that God’s goodness is possibly compatible with anything capable of being put into words (i.e., ultimately and finally mysterious), then there is no good reason to trust him.”

This sentence makes utterly no sense. Here’s a list of things wrong with it:

1. How do we judge whether or not our “best” intuitions are really the best? We would need an evaluative criterion to establish what a good, better, and best intuition is. Perhaps this criterion would be the teaching of scripture, but if our “best” intuitions are contrary to scriptural teaching, how are our “best” intuitions worth anything? Just because people have rebellious and ridiculous intuitions doesn’t mean that we have no reason to trust God, it means that we have no reason to trust our rebellious intuitions.

2. When he states “our best intuitions”, he assumes that everyone has the same intuitions. This is patently false, and so these conclusions do not follow from the premises, since his conclusion assumes our intuitions are the same.

3. Olson draws a false dichotomy between either believing in our intuitions of God’s goodness or believing “that God’s goodness is possibly compatible with anything capable of being put into words”. There is at least one more option – God’s goodness is not “anything capable of being put into words”, but his goodness is what he has revealed to us in scripture. His goodness is not anything capable of being said in words, but is what God has actually said in words.

4. After drawing this false dichotomy between establishing God’s goodness through intuitions or through “anything capable of being put into words”, Olson says that this would make God’s goodness mysterious and unknowable. Since this is a false dichotomy, and since “God’s goodness is possibly compatible with anything capable of being put into words” is a baseless non sequitur which spontaneously emanates from Olson’s mind, this charge of mystery is without basis.

5. This sentence has nothing to do with Calvinist doctrine. Remember that Olson claimed that he was going to demonstrate how high Calvinism is self-referentially false. He has yet to evaluate high Calvinism according to its own standards. High Calvinists do not evaluate biblical doctrines according to their intuitions; Arminians, Papists, and mystics do that.

6. There still remains an ambiguity of what Olson means by “high Calvinism”. If “high Calvinism” means supralapsarians, for instance, then why is he quoting Hodge? Perhaps Olson is referring to those that believe in election and reprobation (what Olson calls “double predestination”). However, all Calvinists believe in election and reprobation. The only significant historical group that fails to affirm reprobation as the necessary consequence of election are Amyraldians, who belong in a separate doctrinal category. His qualification of “high” Calvinism is superfluous, and does not convey any meaningful information, but is a rhetorical device used to implicitly discredit Calvinism.

7. I’m going to turn Olson’s contention of “mystery” back on him. If indeed our “best intuitions” establish God’s goodness, and not the teaching of scripture, since people have mutually contradictory intuitions about God’s goodness, God’s goodness within this paradigm is unknowable. We can never know when we have the right intuition, since other people in the world disagree with us. Also, my Calvinistic intuitions contradict Olson’s intuitions. I might as well take Olson’s advice to follow my Calvinistic intuitions in opposition to his Arminian intuitions. Since the Arminian god’s goodness is contrary to my best intuitions about what goodness is, this means that I cannot trust the Arminian god. This absurd reasoning equally applies to Arminian theology.

8. This reasoning boils down to saying that we cannot trust God if we have false intuitions. But we have false understandings and false intuitions all the time. This just means that, like in number 1, we cannot trust all our intuitions, not that we cannot trust God. Our intuitions are not revelations, and so if they are false, we cannot charge God with falsehood, but ourselves. The consequence of Olson’s reasoning is that we cannot possess any false beliefs or intuitions, otherwise God would be deceiving us. If this were the case, then we would not be able to believe in any god at all, Arminian or Calvinist.

“Trust in a person, even God, necessarily requires belief that the person is good and belief that the person is good necessarily requires some content and not that ‘good’ is merely a cipher for something totally beyond comprehension and unlike anything else we call ‘good.'”

Notice once again that Olson is not evaluating “high Calvinism” according to its own standard, but is rambling about incoherent standards that have nothing to do with high Calvinism.

Olson seems to be defining God’s goodness as, “We must have correct intuitions about God or else God is bad and deceptive”. Where he comes up with these standards, the world may never know.

Olson is the one who concluded God’s goodness is unintelligible if we do not have correct intuitions about his goodness. He did this through a false dichotomy between intuitions and “anything capable of being put into words”. No high Calvinist, and literally no one else in the world, says that God’s goodness is anything capable of being put into words. This is absurd. This is the definition of a non sequitur. Calvinists say that God’s goodness is defined by God himself as he reveals himself in scripture, not by a random assortment of words. Therefore, this irrationalism which he attributes to Calvinism really only stems from Olson’s irrelevant absurdities.

God is good by definition, and what he does is good by definition. God is the standard itself. He never contradicts his nature, nor does he abide by external universal moral principles. This is quite understandable.

“Put in technical language, if ‘good’ applied to God is equivocal and not even analogical, then it is useless for describing God.”

He hasn’t established that High Calvinism results in equivocation because he hasn’t represented the beliefs of high Calvinism in this scenario. He baselessly persists in concluding with non sequiturs stemming from premises that don’t represent high Calvinism.

“If ‘God is good’ is qualified with ‘but his goodness is completely different from ours’ (meaning our highest and best ideas of goodness), then it is meaningless.”

Here is another confusion that I will have to clarify. When Olson says “our goodness”, he defines it to mean “our intuitions of what goodness is”. However, Calvinists who know the difference between equivocal, analogical, and univocal, do not use the phrase “our goodness” in this intuitional sense. In both cases, God’s goodness and our goodness are biblically defined. In neither case does “goodness” have anything to do with unjustified, unbiblical intuitions. And once again, everyone in the world has different “best intuitions” of goodness. There is no single, intuitional perspective that applies to all humanity. Olson fails to factor in the variety of different views of goodness, making the sentence “God is good” meaningless according to his intuitional paradigm.

Those who believe in analogy say that human goodness (as scripture defines it) and God’s goodness (as scripture defines it), are quantitatively and qualitatively different. They do not believe this difference is a result of us having an intuition of goodness contrary to God’s goodness. However, those that believe analogy do believe that our knowledge and God’s knowledge do not coincide at any single point, but this conclusion has nothing to do with Olson’s dichotomy. Those who submit to analogy are wrong because there must be a point of similarity between the two concepts being compared for them to be analogous. This point of similarity between the two words is a univocal meaning. If Olson wants to critique analogy, I support his efforts, but Olson is not critiquing analogy as it has been formulated by Reformed theologians or Aquinas, but is critiquing a formulation of analogy that no Reformed theologian has ever believed.

I agree that a definition which is wholly separate from ours is irrational and problematic, but (1) this is not unique to Calvinism since not all Calvinists believe in analogy, and (2) those who believe in analogy claim that this qualitative difference between our understanding and God’s understand is taught in scripture, not by our “best intuitions”.

Olson confesses that not all Calvinists believe in analogy in what follows, so let’s examine his comments for those of us who do not.

“Not all Calvinists say that God’s goodness is completely different from ours. Paul Helm, for example, in The Providence of God, argues that ‘goodness’ attributed to God cannot be totally other than goodness attributed to human beings (even as an impossible ideal).”

This is called “univocal”. God’s knowledge of the definitions of these words are the same as ours. The difference between our knowledge and God’s knowledge is only quantitatively different and not qualitatively different. This is what I believe.

“Unfortunately for him, I believe, he does not follow that insight through consistently but undermines it by attempting to combine assertion of God’s essential goodness with belief in double predestination.”

This is a classic petitio principii. Olson baselessly assumes that God’s goodness excludes the possibility of double predestination, and then uses this assumption to judge the validity of Calvinism. He asserts that which is in dispute. Here is a syllogism to clarify the argument:

Premise 1: If God predestines people to Hell as Calvinism says, then God is not good.

Premise 2: God predestines people to Hell.

Conclusion: Therefore, God in Calvinism is not good.

The conclusion contradicts the proposition which everyone accepts, namely, that God is good. Hence, this is how Calvinism is self-refuting, since it says that God is good and not good.

The petitio principii is found in premise 1. All Calvinists reject premise 1. Premise 1 cannot ever be established by scripture since scripture does not teach it. Premise 1 is an Arminian assumption based upon irrational emotions. Olson is asserting that which Calvinists dispute, all the while pretending Calvinists accept this premise. We do not.

Olson spends so much time talking about intuition, equivocation, and the rest, building up to this point, but all he had to say was, “A God who predestines people to Hell is not good, and therefore cannot be God.” This is the only reason why Romans 9 cannot mean that: Roger Olson’s unbiblical assumptions assert that the God of Calvinism cannot be good. Calvinism has not been shown to be self-referentially incoherent, since Olson has not evaluated Calvinism according to its own standards, but according to his standards.

“I argue that belief in double predestination is simply logically incompatible with the claim that God is good—unless “good” is emptied of all meaning so that it is a useless cipher for something we don’t know.”

Here is another false dichotomy: “good” must either mean that God cannot predestine people to Hell or “good” must be meaningless. Once again, this is merely asserting that which is in dispute. Olson has not proven anything; he has only asserted things that Calvinists disagree with while not giving a single Biblical argument. We reject this false dichotomy. God is good and God predestines people to Hell. God is the standard of goodness; he is not constrained by any moral standards external to himself, so if God tells us that he is both good and predestines some people to Hell, as Romans 9 teaches, this is certainly not meaningless. Arminians find this unpalatable, but it cannot be called meaningless. Olson assumes a definition of goodness, based upon the vain fantasies of his own design, and imposes these random standards on God.

There is a contradiction or logical incompatibility within Calvinism only when we first assume that reprobation makes God evil. Once we reject this unspoken, Arminian, unbiblical premise, the logical incompatibility disappears.

“But if God is not good in some way analogous to our highest and best intuitions, insights, into “goodness,” then there is no reason to trust the Bible.”

See my previous comments. The gist is, (1) not everyone has the same intuitions, (2) if the Bible contradicts our intuitions it does not mean that scripture is unreliable but that our intuitions are unreliable, (3) and our presuppositions must change in accordance with biblical teaching. Ya know, the “lean not on your own understanding” stuff?

There still remains a hidden ambiguity in this argument involving analogy. Those who believe in analogy argue that God’s knowledge is not only quantitatively different from our own, but also qualitatively different. Olson is attempting to show the incoherence of this perspective, but fails. Analogy Calvinists do not base their knowledge of theological doctrine on their intuitions, but upon the teaching of scripture as they understand it. Analogy Calvinists do not say that the Bible inserts false ideas into our heads, but that the knowledge we derive from scripture is indeed analogous to God’s knowledge, and has nothing to do with irrational intuitions or vague “common sense” notions.

However, analogy is not common to all Calvinists, so this criticism, even if it were valid, does not prove that Calvinism self-destructs, since some Calvinists believe our knowledge and God’s knowledge is univocal. Olson tried to discredit univocal Calvinists by saying that we are inconsistent for believing that God can be good and simultaneously predestine people to Hell. However, as I have already demonstrated, for Olson to say that God cannot be good and predestine people to Hell, is to already assume that Calvinism is false to begin with. We deny that reprobation is contrary to God’s goodness, and so there is no internal inconsistency.

“And if there is no reason to trust the Bible (because God, being not good in any sense meaningful to us, might be deceiving us), then there is no clear motive for intense biblical exegesis.”

I have already demonstrated this conclusion does not follow. God is truth and only speaks truth by definition. To say that God might lie because we cannot trust our intuitions is to talk about a different god. We derive the proper definitions of these words through scripture, not through autonomous reasoning. If God’s nature is contrary to our baseless intuitions, this just means that we cannot trust our intuitions, not that we cannot trust God.

“Every devout, evangelical Christian believer I have ever met or heard of approaches Bible reading and study (including exegesis) with the assumption that the Bible is true (even if not strictly inerrant)”

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“—that it does not misidentify God and God’s will for us.”

In this article, Olson succeeded in identifying our emotions with revelation from God. Apparently we cannot trust God unless God lines up with our preferences. However, our initial intuitions of goodness are irrelevant. All true Christians allow scripture to change their fallen minds to be renewed in the knowledge after the image of the Creator, while lost souls will persist in evaluating God according to the artificial standards of their imagination.

“But built into that assumption is that God, the Bible’s author (by inspiration of the human authors) is good (which is why he is trustworthy and cannot deceive). But belief that God “designs, foreordains, and governs” hell for the reprobate who are unconditionally chosen by God for hell for his glory without regard to any truly free choices they make undermines belief in God’s goodness.”

Why? How? Prove it. Olson never does. He assumes a definition of goodness we reject, baselessly imposes this definition on us, and then objects that Calvinists are contradicting themselves, when we’re really only contradicting Olson’s unscriptural definitions. Petitio Principii.

“So does belief that God “passes over” some he could easily save (because election to salvation is unconditional and saving grace is irresistible), damning them to hell, for his glory.”

And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17-18)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22-23)

It’s all there; Olson just refuses to see it because it contradicts his sensibilities.

“There is no conceivable analogous human behavior that we would call ‘good.'”

Yes there is. All goodness is defined by God, and so the point of similarity all good actions share is whether or not God says it’s good.

“The very concept of “good” rules out such behavior.”

Not God’s conception of good as revealed in scripture.

(To say nothing of Jesus’ own goodness and the New Testament’s commands for us to love our enemies and do good to them.)

Jesus is the king who will damn souls to Hell forever on the Day of Judgement. Jesus’ enemies will be a footstool for his feet. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament who consumed men with fire and sent plagues among the people of Israel. Jesus does not love his enemies. While he was on Earth, he submitted to the will of the Father, and did not return reviling for reviling during his trial, but do not forget that Jesus is king, judge (Revelation 19:15), and warrior (Exodus 15:3, Joshua 5:14-15).

My point is, of course, that there exists a contradiction between two Calvinist beliefs: 1) that the Bible is inherently and unconditionally trustworthy, and 2) that God, its author, is not good in any sense meaningful to us.

Since we reject the second claim, there is no contradiction. Olson arrived at the second claim through premises which Calvinists deny, as I have pointed out repeatedly.

“Belief “1″ assumes that God is good in a sense meaningful to us”

As defined by scripture and not intuition, God’s goodness is completely intelligible to us.

“—comparable with our highest and best intuitions of goodness.”

Intuitions are never and cannot ever be standards used to evaluate the validity of Christian doctrine. (See also Emotions Are Irrelevant).

“Belief “2″ (necessarily implied by double predestination) empties belief “1″ of foundation.”

See my previous comments. Double predestination does not necessitate that God is not good. Only by already rejecting Calvinism do we arrive at this conclusion.

“Therefore, any exegesis of the Bible that ends up portraying God as not good,”

Which he hasn’t shown Calvinism to do; he merely asserts this and begs the question…

“which high Calvinism (belief in double predestination) inexorably does,”

Only if we use an unbiblical and non Calvinist definition of the word “good”…

“cannot be believed because it self-referentially turns back against the very reason for believing the Bible.”

Smuggling in unwarranted premises and definitions which are alien to Calvinist theology does not prove that Calvinism is self-referentially false. Since Olson has not evaluated Calvinism on its own terms, but according to his baseless emotions, we have not yet examined Calvinism self-referentially.

“In order to be consistent one must choose between belief in the Bible as God’s Word and belief in double predestination.”

Only if we first assume that our emotions and carnal intuitions are divine revelation.

“This is why I say with John Wesley about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 ‘Whatever it means it cannot mean that.'”

Well, there you have it. Never once did Olson evaluate Calvinism on its own terms, yet he claims that Calvinism is self refuting. This is Olson’s reasoning in a nut shell:

  1. My intuitions say “X” is not true
  2. Calvinism says “X” is true
  3. Therefore Calvinism cannot be true

Olson’s opinions, intuitions, and emotions say that Calvinism cannot be true, but he has nowhere demonstrated that these are correct and scriptural. If scripture contradicts Olson’s intuitions, which it does, then who cares what he thinks?

All Arminian arguments against Calvinism can be summed up in the following three phrases:

Petitio Principii.

Argumentum ad Misericordiam.

Argumentum ad Passiones.

Hegel Refuted

Georg W. F. Hegel was a German philosopher of the early 19th century. The main tenets of Hegel’s philosophy are rationalism and idealism. He believed that the world is rational and that the human mind can know the world through enough reflection. We do not learn through sensation, but through a dialectical process where we continually reflect upon concepts and provide a synthesis between them. Because knowledge of the world increases through this constant process of syntheses, theses, and antitheses, the world will ultimately continue until no more synthesis is required; only knowledge without any correction or qualification will remain. Through the dialectical process, the world increases in its knowledge until it reaches its zenith, and so Hegel’s philosophy of history is characterized by this idea of progress.

For Hegel, things do not exist independently of thought. This is what makes him an idealist as opposed to being a realist. For Hegel, the world itself is Mind, or Spirit (“Geist” in German). Spirit is reality, or the way things are. We are a part of Spirit by merit of being a part of the world, much like pantheism. Our intellectual life and our actions are the outworking of the reflection of the universal mind. As such, our ideas, though they are many, and different from others, are the result of the universal mind reflecting upon itself, as Hegel states:

“True reality is merely this process of reinstating self-identity, of reflecting into its own self in and from its other…” (Frieser 549).

and,

“The truth is the whole. The whole, however is merely the essential nature reaching its completeness through the process of its own development” (Frieser 549).

Truth is universal self-realization, or the process of Spirit “reaching its completeness through the process of its own development.” The universal mind becomes more and more self-conscious as it reflects upon itself throughout history, and the results of its contemplation can be partially seen through humanity’s intellectual history.

This process of universal realization, or “Zeitgeist”, is famously depicted in Hegel’s bud and flower analogy. Truth and falsehood are not rigid, mechanical concepts, but rather, they are fluid and organic:

“The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in the place of the blossom…But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole” (Frieser 542).

It is not that one philosophy supplants another, or that different beliefs are truly contradictory to one another, but that each are organically related to a higher unity. This higher unity is the Zeitgeist, the concrete universal, or the full self realization of the world. The higher unity is the goal towards which the whole world is progressing. Just as a plant begins as a bud, its ultimate end is to grow into a beautiful, blossoming flower. In light of its teleology, or end goal, there is no contradiction between a bud and the blossom, as if the blossom “refutes” the bud. There is no refutation of the former structures, but a surpassing of it. Likewise, there is never truly a refutation of previous ideas, but in light of the teleology of the world, there is only a surpassing of previously distinct ideas through a synthesis between them.

Past ideas served their contemporaries well, but it was necessary that these would be surpassed, according to Hegel’s theory of universal intellectual progress. Of course, Hegel was influenced by other thinkers, one whom was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Lessing was one of many who popularized the quest for the “Historical Jesus” in Germany. The New Testament does not show us who Jesus is, but is just the embellishment of his followers. Who he actually was and what he actually taught are the main questions those like Lessing wanted to answer. At any rate, Lessing came up with a theory about the New Testament similar to Hegel’s ideas of progress. Just as the New Testament superseded the Old testament, he believed that there would be a third movement that would supersede the New Testament. This third belief system would be the “third kingdom” or “third gospel”.

In this third kingdom, Lessing urged that religious doctrine, although it suited past generations, ought to be more about getting along than separating people. The true message of all religions is to treat one another well. This can be illustrated by Lessing’s play, Nathan the Wise, where the character, Nathan, argues that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a commonality between them. He does this through a story of a father that gives his three sons each a ring. The gist is, one of the rings is special in a way that only the father knows, and whichever son wears that ring will get the inheritance. The father dies before telling them which has the ring, and the brothers squabble amongst each other for the inheritance. Along comes someone else that tells them not to squabble. It does not matter which one was the special ring. There may have never been one. The only thing that matters is that the brothers ought to get along, because the father loved them all.

The brothers represent the three monotheistic religions, the rings represents the impossibility of knowing the true one, and the father represents God. Through this parable, Lessing desired to assimilate these different beliefs into a more general belief, a more generalized – and secularized – religion. The subsuming of concepts into new beliefs is characteristic of parts of Lessing’s works, along with Friedrich W. J. Schelling, and others who have influenced Hegel. (More can be read about this in Elie Kedourie’s book, “Hegel and Marx: Introductory Lectures).

For all this talk about progress and supplanting previous ideas, there came a day when Hegel’s philosophy had been widely discarded. What Hegel overlooked, or brilliantly ignored, was the fact that his own philosophy would become discarded just like past ones. History did not culminate in Hegel’s lifetime. Zeitgeist was not achieved under the Prussian government that Hegel so magnified. The problem with this section of Hegel’s philosophy of historic progress is that the world would then progress beyond Hegel’s ideas. In other words, progress itself is not excepted from progress, and we have moved beyond Hegel’s philosophy as a bud progresses to become a blossom. Gordon Clark comments on this ironic conclusion to views of progress:

“…if all the old concepts which served their time well are to be replaced by new and better concepts, does it not follow that the theory of progress will be discarded as an eighteenth and nineteenth century notion, which no doubt served its age well, but which will then be antiquated and untrue?” (Clark 30).

The answer is obvious. Of course such a view will become antiquated. Given Hegel’s premises, he has shot himself in the foot. His ideas about Zeitgeist and world as a self-reflecting mind now refute themselves in light of the fact that the world has progressed beyond them. Hegelianism was popular for a time, but we have moved beyond it. We, as a society, have taken what we liked from Hegel, and have assimilated it into something else. By his own standards, Hegel’s formulation about historical-intellectual progress is false. It is in this way that Hegel is refuted.

Works Cited

Clark, Gordon. A Christian View of Men and Things. Trinity Foundation, 1998. Print

Frieser, James, and Norman Lillegard. A Historical Introduction to Philosophy.
New York: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

Inequality Is Not Bad

Equality has been in vogue in western nations for many years. It has taken the form of representative democracies during the enlightenment, class warfare under Marxist Communism, women’s suffrage in the United States during the 1920’s, but never before has equality been so emphasized and chanted in popular American culture since the 1960’s civil rights movement. The racial equality fought for during the civil rights movement has now expanded to include economic equality, gender equality, and sexual equality. With such an emphasis on equality, we are taught that everyone who is against equality is a cultural vermin who must be silenced and eradicated. However, equality is not inherently bad.

Economic Inequality

Let’s take economic inequality as an example. Many people think that it is unjust for some people to have a lot of money while others do not. They ask, “Isn’t it unjust that I only have $100 and CEO’s have $100,000,000?” Let’s take it one step further. Is it really unjust for one person to have $10 and another to have $20? Of course not. In either case, both are examples of economic inequality, and if inequality is itself evil, then the second scenario would be just as evil as the first.

This is why inequality is not inherently bad, because if it was, then it would be bad for one person to have more or less money than someone else, no matter what the amount would be. According to this paradigm, the only economically just society would be one where every citizen has the exact same amount of wealth. There couldn’t be any economy at all, since spending money would always result in an unequal distribution of wealth, and hence, economic inequality would still exist. This is what happens to the nations that try to implement communism.

Gender Inequality

This example of gender inequality overlaps with the economic example. It is an often cited statistic that women earn 77% as much money as men, but nearly everyone who cites this statistic misrepresents it. The statistic is from a 2011 Census Bureau report. On page 12, it explains what the 77% ratio means:

“In 2010, the median earnings for men was $47,715 and for women $36,931. In 2010, the female-to-male earnings ratio of full-time, year-round workers was 0.77…”

Whenever this statistic is thrown around, the one citing it always makes it seem as if women are paid less for the same job; they always say that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar men make. However, this just means that women, as a whole, work at lesser paying jobs than men. For example, men are still more likely to become dentists, while women are more likely to become dental assistants. The bare fact that men are more likely to have higher paying jobs has nothing to do with social injustice.

A second example of gender inequality is that women are now more likely to go to a university than men. Oh the horror!

The Real Issue

Examples of inequality can be multiplied, but the real issue is not inequality itself, but the cause of inequality. If the causes of inequality are non coerced voluntary actions of free citizens, there is no problem, but if the causes of inequality are oppressive power structures, then there is a problem.

Suppose, hypothetically, that all of the women that were cited in the Census Bureau report were wives and mothers who freely chose to not pursue higher-paying, stressful careers. Instead, they chose to rely on their husband’s larger salary so that they would be able to focus on being mothers and homekeepers. Suppose also that women are more likely to go to universities because women happen to want to get an education more than men. Would this gender inequality be unjust?

Imagine that all poor people were poor because they chose to work less and are lazy. In contrast, imagine all rich people were rich because they are incredibly skilled and hardworking. Would this economic inequality still be unjust?

Of course not.

Unless we formulate a theory about why these inequalities exist, we cannot draw any ethical conclusions. Of course, it is not true that all women make less money because they want to be mothers, and obviously not all poor people are lazy and not all rich people are hardworking. My point is that it is absurd to assume that all inequalities are ipso facto bad, because the causes of inequalities may differ. In the following paragraphs I will briefly outline two main ideas about the cause of inequality.

1. Neo-Marxism

The reason why many people believe that inequalities are ipso facto bad is because many people, both consciously and unconsciously, submit to a Neo-Marxist perspective. “Marxism” refers to the 19th century thinker Karl Marx, who, along with Friedrich Engels, wrote the Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx believed that all history can be characterized by class struggle, or the constant conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed. “Neo-Marxism”, as opposed to just “Marxism”, refers to the modern appropriation of Marxist economic-political categories into social categories. White, male, Christian, conservatives are now considered the oppressors, while racial minorities, women, and homosexuals are the virtuous oppressed. Because all history is characterized as a struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed, inequality is automatically interpreted as evidence of injustice.

Since Neo-Marxists say that all inequalities are the result of oppressive, sexist, and racist power structures, one’s gain must be another’s loss. The only way to rise in status is to lower the status of someone else. Success is seen as exploitation, and failure is society’s fault, not the individual’s fault. Therefore, prosperity and success – especially the economic success of white males – is seen as evil, while women and racial minorities can always blame other people for their personal failures.

2. Individualism

What I mean by “individualism” is the idea that the individual takes full responsibility for their situation. There are no external factors that hinder free people from becoming successful, so the reason that some are better off than others stems solely from the personal decisions that they have made. Anyone who desires to work hard, and who sets their mind to it, will be able to improve their lot in life.

Inequality is the outworking of the voluntary decisions of free individuals; it is the moral and virtuous conclusion of people’s actions. Inequality is proof that people are punished for bad decisions, and rewarded for good decisions.

The Synthesis

These two perspectives are diametrically opposed. One emphasizes external pressures to the exclusion of individual responsibility, and the other emphasizes individual responsibility to the exclusion of external pressures. Both are wrong. It is an undeniable fact that legislation once existed in the United States that explicitly excluded racial minorities from the same opportunities given to others, proving that external pressures are real. It is also an undeniable fact that the Neo-Marxist paradigm – that all inequalities are caused by external power structures – fails to take account of individual autonomy, and submerges people’s identities into the machine of the societal system. Society cannot possibly condition every individual action, and so Neo-Marxism, as I’ve defined it, is also untenable.

The failure of these two perspectives is that they completely exclude the other. The cause of inequality must be a synthesis between the two. It is caused both by the voluntary decisions of individuals and by preexisting external factors.

One of the mistakes people make is thinking that we must legislate the elimination of all external factors that cause inequality. We must not even attempt to do this, since, as long as people continue to exist, inequalities will continue to exist. Let me clarify what inequalities I am referring to. I do not mean that we shouldn’t eliminate horrendous legislation like racial segregation. Equality before the law is an absolute necessity. Rather, homework shouldn’t stop being assigned to children because some children are bad at it. The army also shouldn’t lower their physical standards to accommodate those with bodily deformities.

Those on the political Left have an inordinate amount of faith in the government’s ability to legislate fairness. However, they often define fairness as stealing people’s money to give to other people who did not work for it. They consider it fair to place higher tax rates on millionaires than the rest of society. They believe that affirmative action is justified; that minorities ought to be favored over non minorities, regardless of personal ability. Ironically, the Leftist supports all of these policies in the name of equality, fairness, and opposing oppressive power structures, but these policies do not support equality at all, but its opposite. These types of policies advocate inequality over equality, collectivist power structures over individualism, and tyranny over freedom. By striving to end injustice, they help to perpetuate injustice.

Conclusion

As long as we continue to exist there will continue to be inequality. Inequality stems from both individual decisions and external factors. Before we can conclude whether or not any particular inequality is bad or not, we must consider its main cause. The fact that women, as a whole, make less money than men is trivial unless it can be demonstrated that women are forced into making less money through external pressures. Having less money than the rich isn’t unjust unless your money was stolen and given to the rich. This is why inequality is not inherently bad, since it is only the conclusion of previous events. It is these previous events that we must examine if we want to be truthful on the issues of equality, fairness, and social justice.