Calvinism and the Arbitrary Camp Director Revisited: A Response to Andrew

Posted on 11/14/11 66 Comments

Recently (as in within the last couple days) a student of philosophy named Andrew from the University of Auckland posted an article on Matt and Madeleine Flannagan’s website provocatively titled “Randal Rauser’s Mistake: A Defense of Calvin’s Doctrine of Election“. Okay, I consider that provocative anyway. The article focuses on identifying an alleged error in my article “Calvinism and the arbitrary camp director“. It is capped off with the following: “I am given to understand that Randal Rauser is a prolific blogger, and I sincerely hope for his response.” In this article I offer the response Andrew seeks, but perhaps not the one he was hoping for.

First off, a brief recap on what I was arguing in the offending article. In “Calvinism and the arbitrary camp director” I sought to illustrate the arbitrariness of election within Calvinism and to identify how this presents to us a counterintuitive picture of the God of superabundant love. Indeed, it presents a picture which appears false. The illustration consists of a scenario in which a camp director severely punishes some of the troubled children at his camp while choosing to nurture others. I wrote: “There is absolutely nothing that differentiates the two groups. The bottom line is that for some inexplicable reason the director arbitrarily selects some children to be beaten and others to be nurtured.” And I argued that the arbitrariness in which the director selects some kids to be beaten and others to be nurtured and rehabilitated is deeply troubling. Such a director could conceivably be just (though perhaps not if you reject retributive punishment), but he couldn’t be considered superabundantly loving to all his campers.

Here is Andrew’s response. Please read it all if you are able. If, however, you’re pressed for time (maybe you have to pick up the kids from soccer practice) then just read the first sentence because that is the crucial one.

What Rauser neglects to include in his analogy, and truthfully it’s essential, is that humans do not deserve salvation. The Calvinist maintains that (in virtue of our Total Depravity) morality and/or justice does not impose on God a duty to save us from death. As such, if God is to save us, it is totally unmerited in all senses of the word. It goes, as it were, beyond the call of duty, and is as such, “supererogatory”. That is to say, it might be a nice deed for God to perform, but there is no obligation/duty on Him to do so. If it’s the case that any salvific work that God does is “supererogatory” in this sense, then it cannot be said that there’s any injustice associated with picking some and leaving others. Suppose by way of illustration, that some person S has many brothers. Suppose furthermore, that S (out of the goodness of his heart) decides to gift some money to but one of his brothers. Since S was under no obligation to give ANY of his brothers (let alone the one he actually gave it to) any money at all, there’s no injustice or objective unfairness in S benefiting one brother and not benefiting others. None of S’s brothers had done anything that placed a duty on S to provide his brothers with money, and nor was there anything about S’ brothers which meant that they were intrinsically deserving of the money. In a similar way, the Calvinist holds that because of our sinful nature, there is nothing about us or the way we act which means that we deserve salvation. Hence God has no duty whatsoever to save us. That God has no such duty entails that there is no injustice associated with God saving some and not others.

It is the fact that we don’t deserve salvation that Rauser unfortunately fails to include in his analogy. I have no doubt that he attempted to include this in the analogy (the fact that the children are referred to as “troubled” is indication enough), nevertheless it strikes me that what does most of the work in producing the intuition that the camp director’s actions were unjust, is not so much the fact that his actions were “arbitrary”, so much as that the children were not deserving of such treatment. As much as Rauser attempts to include in his analogy the un-deservingness of the children, he does not succeed. Troubled children, we perceive, are never so troubled and don’t commit crimes so horrific as to deserve the treatment they receive at the hands of the camp director in Rauser’s illustration. To the contrary, we are inclined to think that the children deserve better treatment. In Rauser’s analogy then, there is a duty on the camp director to treat the children in a more appropriate manner. It’s this that the injustice of Rauser’s analogy consists in. Not, as he asserts, the mere arbitrariness of the camp directors choice.

By failing to incorporate this aspect into his analogy, Rauser assumes what the Calvinist about election already denies, namely that we are deserving of salvation, and that God has a corresponding duty to save us. So in an important sense, Rauser assumes the falsity of Calvinism in an attempt to show its falsity. To put a long story short, he begs the question against Calvinism.

Andrew concludes that I “beg the question against Calvinism.” Youch. Strong words. But is that true?

In order to answer that question we’ll have to go back to that all important first sentence. Here it is again for good measure: “What Rauser neglects to include in his analogy, and truthfully it’s essential, is that humans do not deserve salvation.”

Andrew assumes here that it is “essential” for my analogy to add that the campers do not deserve rehabilitation. I have two responses to this. First, this is a misunderstanding of the primary focus of the analogy. It is not intended to provide a summary of Christian soteriology. Rather, it is intended to illumine a problem with conceiving God as maximally loving to his creatures on Calvinism by comparing God to a camp director who is inexplicably limited in the mercy he extends to his campers.  Consequently, Andrew’s objection to my analogy is akin to faulting a two seat sports car because it cannot carry the whole family. Given that it was never designed to do this, the objection is misplaced.

This brings me to the second point: my analogy is fully congruent with recognizing that all the children are deserving of beatings. (In other words, if we are talking cars, there is in fact room for the entire family.) Assuming that this is in fact the case then the camp director is perfectly just to beat some and rehabilitate others. But that’s beside the point: the issue is not whether he is just to beat some campers; rather, the point is that by choosing to beat some retributively rather than rehabilitate them he cannot be considered maximally loving toward all the campers. To simplify the picture consider:

Scenario 1: The director arbitrarily selects some children for beatings and others for loving rehabilitation.

Scenario 2: The director selects all children for loving rehabilitation.

Let’s agree that all children deserve beatings and that the director acts justly in both cases. That’s all irrelevant. The point is that the director is more loving toward all his campers in scenario 2 than in 1.

So the question centers on what we should expect from a maximally loving and merciful director. And that forces us back to a prior question: Does Andrew believe that God is maximally loving and merciful? Here he faces a dilemma. If he says no then he has boldly bitten a bullet big enough to take down a herd of charging elephants and I pity him and his brutal theology. I believe emphatically that any conception of God which denies that God is maximally loving and merciful ought to be tossed out with that Millennium Fruitcake that lies forgotten at the bottom of your freezer. On the other hand, if Andrew agrees that God is maximally loving and merciful then he must explain how it is possible that a maximally loving and merciful God can will arbitrarily to redeem some creatures and damn others to the utmost unimaginable tortures (even if those tortures are justly deserved).

If we really do believe that the camp director is loving and merciful then we can rest assured that he will always act wherever possible to actualize shalom for his campers. And that is inconsistent with the notion that he arbitrarily selects some for nurturing and others for vicious (even if deserved) beatings.

To sum up, the director does not act in a way that is maximally loving and merciful. Nor is God maximally loving and merciful on the theology to which Andrew is a blushing new convert.

A tale of two conversions

In his article Andrew shares his personal testimony in which he converted to Calvinism barely three months ago based on a new reading of a single parable of Jesus. I say one good conversion story deserves another, so let me explain why I left Calvinism behind a decade ago shortly after the birth of my daughter.

And how did that work? When I had a child I realized for the first time in my life and however falteringly, a love for another of God’s creatures that was so unconditional that it took my breath away. From that child’s first cry I wanted nothing more for this precious new life than that she achieve shalom. I spent hours listening to songs like “If I Could” by Ray Charles and “Lullaby” by Billy Joel, songs which expressed a father’s heart for his beloved child to flourish in this often cruel world. And I listened with a new pathos to the haunting agony of the theme from “On Golden Pond” which expresses all the agony of a father (Henry Fonda) unable to relate to the daughter he loves so much (Jane Fonda), a lament reminiscent of the lonely loons that settle on the pond every autumn. I knew as surely as I knew anything that with the birth of my child I had been given a narrow but piercing glimpse into the Fatherly love of God for his creatures. Although I was an emotionally limited, fallen individual I knew that in my love for this child I had grasped on to something truly transcendent, something which went to the very heart of the universe and beyond. This love was bedrock. It was the root of all things. It was that word which brought all into existence and which worked to bring all to redemption. My desire for my child to flourish, to find love and peace, to achieve shalom, was a glimpse of the heart of the God who desired nothing less for all creation

Needless to say, this did not work with my Calvinism, and it does not work with Calvinism generally (unless, of course, your Calvinism is one that embraces universal redemption as it does in all but name in the theology of Karl Barth).  At the very moment where I concluded that my love for my child reflected an unconditional divine desire for the shalom of all creation, the Calvinist has to shout a resounding NO! God does not desire shalom for all his creatures. God’s unconditional love extends only to those creatures he elects inexplicably. Consequently, God does not desire the shalom of those creatures he has determined from eternity to be born into fallenness and to will their own destruction. Those creatures he hates. And when we see them as he does, we will hate them too.

This results in an appalling dilemma which I discussed in chapter 7 of my book Faith Lacking Understanding. On this view it is possible that the very child for which I desired shalom unconditionally is in fact in God’s eyes one of the reprobate for whom he has eternally willed the most horrendous suffering.

For Andrew to think this is a debate about whether the campers or my daughter “deserves” salvation or not, or even whether God is “just” to damn them (or her) is to miss the point completely. This has nothing to do with whether the campers or my daughter deserves salvation or whether God is just. But it has everything to do with what we should expect from a God who is maximally loving and merciful.

It is sadly ironic that Andrew seems to have once grasped this very point. He writes that “barely three months ago I was a staunch Arminian when it came to soteriology. I reacted against Calvin’s doctrine with the greatest of revulsion.” At this time he wondered “How could it possibly be, I thought, that God could be “good” and yet actively choose some for salvation while leaving others to die?! It made no sense to me!” At this time things seemed clear to him: “If I was going to write anything, it would have been about how Calvinism completely destroys any sensible understanding of God’s justice and love.”

How right Andrew once was. He once understood that the issue is not about human free will or even divine justice. Rather it is about divine love, mercy, compassion. It is about a God who would surely desire that all his creatures achieve shalom.

Andrew, it is not too late. You need not think of God determining to will some creatures to their own eternal destruction for his greater glory. You need not accept that his choice to damn some and save others is inexplicably arbitrary. You need not embrace moral incoherence at the very heart of all things. Come back Andrew. Legions of Arminians wait to embrace you with glowing smiles and the unconditional embrace of a God who loves all his creatures without condition.

 

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  • Jag Levak

    “There is absolutely nothing that differentiates the two groups.”

    Is that absolutely absolutely, or just absolutely so far as we can tell?

    “The bottom line is that for some inexplicable reason the director arbitrarily selects some children to be beaten and others to be nurtured.”

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you contend that our limited perspective places us in no position to pass judgement on the goodness of God. Could a Calvinist not likewise contend that our inability to find an explicable reason for some decision of God does not automatically confer upon us the ability to judge that such a decision was therefore truly arbitrary? Isn’t pretty much any apologetic you can use to explain away the problem of evil going to serve the Calvinist just as well?

    And why would a God who supposedly sees an entire lifetime at once not judge on that basis? Maybe I’ve been as good as my “elected” neighbor up to this point, but maybe an atemporal god could also foresee that mercy would be wasted on me, and that letting the likes of me into heaven would destroy any possibility of attaining the maximal good. Is there anything in Calvinism which precludes judgement on the basis of the totality of one’s existence?

    • randal

      “Is that absolutely absolutely, or just absolutely so far as we can tell?”

      There is no relevant moral difference since all people are, in accord with the divine decree, equally fallen. There may be non-moral factors however. For example, perhaps God decided to elect everyone who likes the color red but not those who like the color ochre. But most people would have an aversion to God electing people to be saved on such a trivial basis, even if he does so justly because of his prior decree that they all be fallen.

      “Could a Calvinist not likewise contend that our inability to find an explicable reason for some decision of God does not automatically confer upon us the ability to judge that such a decision was therefore truly arbitrary?”

      Jag I admire your tenacity to defend another position. There is an important difference between being able to see that p can’t be true and being unable to see that p can be true. So the question is which is it. Can we see that God can’t have a good reason for selecting certain individuals to save and other to damn when he could have saved all? Or can we see that God couldn’t have a good reason for doing this when he could have saved all? Insofar as a person agrees with me that God is omnibenevolent and thus has a maximal shalom-directed love for all creatures, one should believe that the second position is false.

      “Is there anything in Calvinism which precludes judgement on the basis of the totality of one’s existence?”

      I’m confused by your question. Calvinists traditionally accept the penal substitutionary view of atonement. This means that people are not judged based on the totality of their existence. Rather, they are judged either on their own actual sins and the imputed guilt of Adam or they’re judged based on the imputed righteousness of Christ.

      • Jag Levak

        “There is no relevant moral difference since all people are, in accord with the divine decree, equally fallen.”

        So I’m guessing you believe the status of being fallen is the only attribute your god considers morally relevant.

        “Jag I admire your tenacity to defend another position.”

        I, of course, think the Calvinists are as wrong as any other flavor of Christianity, so I’m not proposing an actual defense of their position, but it does seem to me they embody a willingness to bite the bullet and accept the implications of believing 1) God will save some, but not all and, 2) God foresees everything infallibly, and thus has always known who he will save and who he will not. If you accept both of those premises, but also say you can avoid the seemingly inescapable implication of an elect (or its functional equivalent), then that would be a neat trick, and it would be interesting to see how you do that.

        “There is an important difference between being able to see that p can’t be true and being unable to see that p can be true. So the question is which is it. Can we see that God can’t have a good reason for selecting certain individuals to save and other to damn when he could have saved all? Or can we see that God couldn’t have a good reason for doing this when he could have saved all?”

        I’m not sure that wording captures the distinction you are trying to make.

        “Insofar as a person agrees with me that God is omnibenevolent and thus has a maximal shalom-directed love for all creatures, one should believe that the second position is false.”

        Just to clarify, are you saying that your god would be less than omnibenevolent if he saves less than everyone?

    • Walter

      Isn’t pretty much any apologetic you can use to explain away the problem of evil going to serve the Calvinist just as well?

      If I’m not mistaken I have seen the Calvinists at Triablogue make that very claim.

  • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.com/ Kerry

    You said:The point is that the director is more loving toward all his campers in scenario 2 than in 1.

    So the question centers on what we should expect from a maximally loving and merciful director. And that forces us back to a prior question: Does Andrew believe that God is maximally loving and merciful?

    It seems to me you are measuring God’s love on the basis of his actions towards people without any other consideration. What I mean is God does not just love people in isolation. He loves justice as well. Your maximally loving God must also consider justice. Maybe a maximally loving God in the sense you suppose would have spared his own Son as well? What did he deserve having lived a perfect life? On your basis a maximally loving God would not have “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” his perfect Son to the cross.

    The justice and mercy of God meet on the Cross. I find it telling in this regard that on his one side he said to the convict “you shall be with me in Paradise” But not so to the other. Where then is the maximum love?

    • randal

      “God does not just love people in isolation. He loves justice as well. Your maximally loving God must also consider justice.”

      Kerry, I’m not sure what you’re claiming here. Are you saying that God was unable justly to elect all people to salvation from eternity in Christ? If you do believe that, what is your reason for believing it? If you don’t believe it (and thus believe that God could have justly elected all to salvation), then why didn’t God elect all people to salvation from eternity in Christ?

      • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.com/ Kerry

        What I am asking- is your definition and measure of maximal love accurate? If God is love then whatever he does proceeds on the basis of love. God loves justice so some are justly condemned that is also a measure of his love, it is just that in this case his love is expressed in justice while sometimes it is expressed in mercy. God is no less loving either way and the integrity of his love for both justice and mercy are met perfectly on the cross.

        • randal

          “God loves justice so some are justly condemned that is also a measure of his love, it is just that in this case his love is expressed in justice while sometimes it is expressed in mercy.”

          Kerry, are you suggesting that God wouldn’t have been just if he had elected all to salvation by imputing the righteousness of Christ to all? After all, whether God reprobate some or saves all, his wrath and justice are still satisfied on penal substitutionary theology by the death of Christ. So the only remaining question is how many people would God will to save by the infinitely effective death of his beloved Son. If God is omnibenevolent (meaning that he desires all creatures to achieve shalom) then it follows necessarily that he would desire that all achieve shalom and thus he would elect all in Christ such that none would be reprobate. Insofar as you deny that this is the case and continue to affirm that some are reprobate you thereby reject the divine omnibenevolence. The question is why?

          • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.com/ Kerry

            Randal: Kerry, are you suggesting that God wouldn’t have been just if he had elected all to salvation by imputing the righteousness of Christ to all?

            Ultimately I don’t have to suggest anything about a hypothetical world. This is the one I live in- and I seek to understand it in terms of experience and in the light of scripture. It is apparent that people reject the Gospel, some accept it. Choices have consequences. I seek to understand this world through the lens of scripture, if I were to be more convinced that libertarian free will reflected scripture better I would follow that. I think that what is damaging is the extremism of both sides. We have a will, it is meaningful- but not absolute.

            • randal

              Kerry, I’m going to respond to these comments in a blog post.

  • Katie

    Randal, do you agree with the following assessment?

    If it is the case that God does not save everyone, then either 1) he is unable to save some people in spite of his wishes, 2) he chooses not to save some people even though he does in fact love everyone, or 3) he chooses not to save some people because he doesn’t love them [obviously not an option].

    In your reason for rejecting Calvinism, you seem to be saying that (2) is inconsistent. So, is (1) your position?

    • randal

      Correct. If the antecedent is true (God does not save everyone) then I accept 1) as the consequent. And that, of course, is just the Arminian position.

      • Katie

        Why do you think God is unable to save some people?

        • randal

          Insofar as God chooses to work within the confines of human libertarian free will.

          • Katie

            So he’s not strictly unable to save people, but he chose to establish and respect our free will which entails his inability to save some people. Why would a loving God value our free will over our wellbeing?

            • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.com/ Kerry

              Well said Katie.

              If one looks around in this world today at what is going on in the name of free-will. Abortion basically on demand in celebration of freewill. Live your life just as you please- your will decides what is right for you. Pro-choice is what its called. Everything it seems is to cater to the individual will. In our country a girl of 11 can get an abortion without notifying her parents if she “chooses”. In our country a child under the age of 17 who “chooses” to disagree with the household rules will be paid an allowance to go and live with her boyfriend!

            • randal

              “Why would a loving God value our free will over our wellbeing?”

              Imagine a young couple who have a child. The doctor tells them they can implant a chip in the child’s head which will determine their child to act in such a way that they never sin or rebel against their parents. For example, the parents can program it so the child will opt to watch “Nova” on PBS rather than “Spongbob”. And they can program it so the child will marry just who they want, choose the vocation they think is best, and so on.

              I hope you can agree that the parents would opt not to do this. In part they choose not to because they recognize that there is inherent value in a child freely making their own decisions for good and sometimes for ill. In other words, well being includes free will. A person who is determined does not exemplify a crucial dimension of well being.

              At the same time, I don’t think the value of free will is a plausible defense of the horrendous doctrine of eternal conscious torment. But that’s another discussion.

              • Katie

                What about when Jesus appeared to Saul/Paul? That directly led to his conversion, but surely you don’t believe the experience violated Paul’s free will. Even under Arminianism, you have to concede that God is willfully withholding data and experience from many people that would cause them to freely choose to believe.

                “In part they choose not to because they recognize that there is inherent value in a child freely making their own decisions for good and sometimes for ill. In other words, well being includes free will.”

                We’re talking about (and only about) salvation here, not what tv shows people watch.

                Do you really think it causes greater wellbeing for people to be able to choose to live apart from relationship with God?

                If your young child was running around with a steak knife, would it be more loving to forcibly remove the knife, or to stand on the side and ask the child to please make the right choice to put down the knife?

                • randal

                  “What about when Jesus appeared to Saul/Paul? That directly led to his conversion, but surely you don’t believe the experience violated Paul’s free will.”

                  No, of course not. An Arminian has no problem with Paul’s conversion.

                  “We’re talking about (and only about) salvation here…”

                  You can’t discuss freedom, determinism, libertarianism and compatibilism in all the myriad decisions that constitute a life lived out in saving relationship with Jesus Christ without embedding that discussion in a more general discussion of the same topics.

                  “Do you really think it causes greater wellbeing for people to be able to choose to live apart from relationship with God?”

                  To the extent that it isn’t is the extent to which an Arminian would be committed to a divinely determined universalism to save those who wouldn’t be saved via their own free choices. If that’s what God in fact does then I have no quarrel with it.

          • The Existence of Libertarian Free Will is Purely Hypothetical

            The Existence of Libertarian Free Will is Purely Hypothetical. I don’t say this as a Calvinist (which I am not).

            First, you can’t prove the existence of Libertarian Free Will, because you can’t continue going back to the same exact time and frame of mind one was in when one made a decision the first time to see if you could or would make a different decision (everything else being completely equal). So it can’t be tested. One’s time and space and frame of mind are different each time you try to “go back” to repeat such an experiment.

            Second, If there is no sufficient causal effect from the accumulation of memories, experiences and knowledge that slightly tips the scales of each dicey decision, then you don’t have any sufficient cause lying behind one’s decisions and choices, which makes them no better than spinning a wheel of fortune. And that makes the concept of libertarian free will ridiculous.

            Third, If Libertarian Free Will is so important then can we use it in heaven to sin, or use it in hell to repent? Why not? Is there some factor that can over ride your precious “Libertarian Free Will?” Then I guess that would mean such a will is not truly “libertarian” enough!

            Fourth, Can God use His Libertarian Free Will to do something that’s less than good or less than infinitely pefect, or to do something not suggested by His all knowing-ness?

            Does God even have Free Will? Spinoza thought not. Not if you propose that the attributes of God are omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, etc. Because if God knows everything and knows how to accomplish everything and only wants to do good, then that will be accomplished in the most perfect manner without recourse to “other ways of doing things.” Hence God has no free will. And Spinoza pointed out, neither do we, not if the infinite Being knows everything, and if everything came solely out of that Being’s infinite power, infinite intelligence, etc. And if that Being is in all things as well. There’s no room for “free will.”

            P.S., I should add that the Calvinist claim that God can “create evil” but not “choose evil,” nor be “evil” Himself is utter nonsense.

            • randal

              “First, you can’t prove the existence of Libertarian Free Will”. It depends what you mean by “prove”. On the notion you seem to presuppose, you cannot prove determinism either.

              “Second, If there is no sufficient causal effect from the accumulation of memories, experiences and knowledge that slightly tips the scales of each dicey decision, then you don’t have any sufficient cause lying behind one’s decisions and choices, which makes them no better than spinning a wheel of fortune.”

              You’re begging the question by simply ignoring the liberty of indifference.

              “Third, If Libertarian Free Will is so important then can we use it in heaven to sin, or use it in hell to repent?”

              On the latter, it depends on one’s view of hell. If a Christian is a universalist who believes that hell is reformative and restorative then yes. On the former, no because we will be fully sanctified. So why are we not sanctified now? Because there is inherent value in developing a moral history of free choices through which our wills are conformed to the will of God in Christ.

              “Can God use His Libertarian Free Will to do something that’s less than good or less than infinitely pefect, or to do something not suggested by His all knowing-ness?”

              No. But perfection still provides an infinite variety of options.

              “Does God even have Free Will?”

              I think I must say that God has libertarian free will. If he didn’t — if he was determined by the necessity of his nature to create the world he does — then it would seem that the creation and the creatures in that creation would be likewise determined.

              • Robert

                I consider the problem of free will solved.

                Sometimes we confuse reality and our thoughts about reality as if they are the same. “Free will” is prone to this problem because it is something we feel from inside a human mind.

                The mind can model our world at many different levels, but as far as anyone can tell, physics operates at a single level – elementary particle fields and fundamental forces.

                Physics will treat the stuff of a cat the same way it will treat the stuff in your head, but here’s the kicker: When you see a cat, you are seeing a model of reality. From inside a human mind, it feels like there is this thing existing at a level of reality that we label “cat”, but please, don’t confuse your model of reality – your beliefs about reality – with reality itself. You might have 29 levels of abstraction for the screen in front of you, yet physics has only one; reality will not change when you delete something from your model or add another layer. On to free will …

                It’s hard to imagine how the world would be different if free will did not actually exist: What would the universe be like if human brains were entirely subject to low-level physical laws that do not change? Look around … I think you are seeing it.

                If the mind were not embodied in the brain, it would be embodied in something else; there would be some real thing that was a mind. If the future were not determined by physics, it would be determined by something, some law, some order, some grand reality that included you within it.

                But if the laws of physics control us, then how can we be said to control ourselves?

                Turn it around: If the laws of physics did not control us, how could we possibly control ourselves?

                How could thoughts judge other thoughts, how could emotions conflict with each other, how could one course of action appear best, how could we pass from uncertainty to certainty about our own plans, in the midst of utter chaos?

                If we were not in reality, where could we be?

                The future is determined by physics. What kind of physics? The kind of physics that includes the actions of human beings. — Thou Art Physics

                • Ed Babinski

                  Robert, Nicely put!

              • Jag Levak

                “I think I must say that God has libertarian free will. If he didn’t — if he was determined by the necessity of his nature to create the world he does — then it would seem that the creation and the creatures in that creation would be likewise determined.”

                I think this is an argument of the form “I prefer to think I am free, so I prefer to think God must be free”

                Several problems. Let’s say there is some randomizing element in our natures so that we are not utterly determined. Does that defeat of determinism automatically confer free will upon us? Is there anything to suggest a determined god could not possibly be determined to create a creation which included a randomizing element? If the god were not determined, but only escaped determinism by having a randomizing element himself, would that necessarily confer free will on this god? Even if the god had whatever you mean by free will, why would it be impossible for it to make a creation in which all the creatures were entirely determined?

                • randal

                  “I think this is an argument of the form “I prefer to think I am free, so I prefer to think God must be free”.

                  No, but that’s a nice thought. If you want to read a defense of libertarian free will you could begin with Peter van Inwagen’s Essay on Free Will.

                  • http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/01/prior-prejudices-and-argument-from.html Ed Babinski

                    Randal,

                    Inwagen in a recent paper (2008), admits there are difficulties when it comes to defending “free will”: “There are seemingly unanswerable arguments that (if they are indeed unanswerable) demonstrate that free will is incompatible with determinism. And there are seemingly unanswerable arguments that . . . demonstrate that free will is incompatible with indeterminism. But if free will is incompatible both with determinism and indeterminism, the concept ‘free will’ is incoherent, and the thing free will does not exist. . . . The problem of free will, I believe, confronts us philosophers with a great mystery. Under it our genius is rebuked.” (Inwagen, “How to Think about the Problem of Free Will,” 2008, http://www.andrewmbailey.com/pvi/How_to_Think_About_Free_Will.pdf )

                    Indeed, “free will” remains one of the most contested of concepts both philosophically and theologically, see recent books like these: Four Views on Free Will (libertarianism, compatibilism, hard incompatibilism, revisionism); Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom ; Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views ; Four Views on Divine Providence ; Perspectives on Election: Five Views ; God & Time: Four Views ; Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views (Classical Calvinism, Modified Calvinism, Classical Arminianism, Open Theism); In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (Christian dualists vs. Christian monists).

                    Inwagen’s argument in his earlier work that you named runs, “If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of those things (including our present acts) are not up to us.”

                    But Inwagen’s argument doesn’t affect the “free will” debate on a scientific, behavioral and practical level, because our decisions are indeed “up to us” in the practical sense because we are individual beings who are social, sensory, thinking and feeling, and we don’t like having our lives or our belongings taken away from us at somebody else’s whim. So there ARE consequences such individual beings must consider if they are living in a society of individuals who think and feel THAT way. We also have enough intelligence to know that we can ingest new data and learn from our mistakes. And we know that some are far less capable than others of learning from their mistakes–either due to ingrained biological or psychological scars. Hence, we give people chances to reform in prison and/or after prison, but not an infinite number of chances, and not if, say, they can’t stop killing people. We also hire police and take commonsense precautions. That’s “consequentialism” of a determinist kind.

                    Furthermore, both neurological and cognitive research data agrees that in nature one thing follows another, rather than coming from some supernatural place beyond this cosmos. It also makes more sense to think of the brain-mind as comparing data to make intelligent choices, and able to acquire new data and make new choices as a result, than it does to suggest that “free will” “decides” things.

                    Think of it this way, no matter how “free” or “unfree” one’s decisions may be, the decisions we value most are the ones made based on the most intelligence and most reliable information gathered, and humans (along with other large-brained mammals like dolphins, elephants and great apes) have evolved in that direction. We see more options, including more intelligent options, than other species. We are able to concentrate at length on the probable consequences of decisions we make–or are thinking about making. We can incorporate new data that compels us to rethink decisions we made in the past and make better choices in the future. We have knowledge and experiences stored up from generations past in written form. And we have instruments that enlarge our sight and knowledge of the cosmos, from radiotelescopes to electron microscopes. So we have a plethora of data we can and do input into our brain-minds before we pop out one of our predetermined decisions.

                    Humans are way above jellyfish in making intelligent decisions, even above the latest model orangutan when it comes to making intelligent decisions, and that’s what matters most. (On the negative side, we also have enough intelligence and engineering know how to destroy life on earth, and we may yet do so out of anger, carelessness, or neglect. It’s even possible that our self-destruction is pre-determined, just like that of mold growing on an orange, sucking the life out of the orange until the mold starts to die in its own waste products. That could be humanity’s end too. Or an asteroid, something we have little control over. But at least we have the intelligence to be thinking about a wide variety of such premonitions of our own demise in the natural world, and may be able to take action against some of them.)

                    A word on “quantum mechanical weirdness,” which C. S. Lewis attempted to employ as some sort of “way out of nature,” or “Subnatural door through which all events and all ‘bodies’ are fed into nature.” Douglas Hofstadter points out that everything that’s atomic is not quantum weird, but there appears to be a natural scale of weirdness, for instance, “Rydberg atoms are highly excited atoms whose outermost electrons have very large quantum numbers, and which are consequently tethered so loosely to their central nucleus that their orbits begin to be somewhat less ‘cloud-like’ (i.e., less quantum mechanical) and more like the familiar planetary orbits that electrons used to follow, back in the short-lived ‘semi-classical’ era of physics, before Heisenberg’s day. These bridges between the alien world and the familiar world help provide the intuitions necessary for macroscopic people to imagine how jolly giant greenness could emerge from murky, unfathomable microdepths!”

                    Neither does invoking quantum changes in atoms (which I think are deduced percentage-wise for groups of atoms) prove anything about the “freedom” of “the will.”

                    • randal

                      Ed, thanks for all the effort in marshalling your comments here. I’ll just respond to your first comment: “Inwagen in a recent paper (2008), admits there are difficulties when it comes to defending “free will”: ”

                      There are great difficulties in defending most of the things we believe most strongly about. For example, I believe strongly that I sense perceive the world but there are significant problems with every major philosophical theory of perception. That hardly raises a doubt in me that I don’t actually sense perceive the world.

                • Ed Babinski

                  Jag, Yes, by jove you’ve got it! Even if Randal hasn’t.

            • Jag Levak

              “you can’t prove the existence of Libertarian Free Will, because you can’t continue going back to the same exact time and frame of mind one was in when one made a decision the first time to see if you could or would make a different decision”

              Suppose you could. Would that establish anything? Say you could rerun a decision event any number of times. How many reruns would it take to establish that it would have been impossible to get a different decision outcome out of a given scenario?

              Really, we don’t need the ability to run this experiment. We can jump right to the matter supposedly being tested and consider the possibilities.

              Possibility 1: It is impossible for you to decide differently on any replaying of a decision. In this view, your actions would be indistinguishable from hard determinism. But just because an outcome due to X cannot be distinguished from an outcome due to Y, does that mean that X must be Y? We tend to think that we make decisions based on a consideration of the circumstances and our options. That’s what we normally mean by will. But given the same circumstances and the same options, shouldn’t we arrive at the same decision?

              Possibility 2: It is possible for you to decide differently on some replayings of a decision. This would certainly be distinguishable from determinism, but in considering two replays with different results, if we eliminate everything which is the same between the two trials in order to see what difference could have produced the different outcomes, we will essentially have eliminated all the circumstances being considered (for they are the same) and all our options (ditto), and all of our experiences and cognitive abilities. In other words, we would eliminate everything which we would normally consider crucial to the decision-making process and the operation of will. It isn’t readily apparent, then, how this would establish the existence of free will. It would more likely establish the existence of some element which appears to have no cause, something indistinguishable from randomness.

              There is no possibility 3, so there is only the outcome which looks like determinism, but doesn’t disprove free will, and the outcome which looks like uncaused randomness, but doesn’t establish the existence of free will. So it isn’t clear what was to be gained or learned from running the replay experiment in the first place.

              I think maybe a better first step would be to define exactly what distinguishes free will from non-free will. Presumably, the free modifier indicates freedom of, or from, something, but what? Surely it can’t mean freedom from the ingredients crucial to the operation of will, even though all of those elements do serve to constrain our decision making process. But if free will is to be a type of will, it would also have to be free from the inclusion of uncaused or randomizing factors. So what sort of freedom is it that would be free of both determinitive and indeterminitive factors?

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Non-existence is obviously bliss compared to eternal conscious torment. South African philosopher David Benatar insists that non-existence is bliss compared to any kind of existence.

  • The Existence of Libertarian Free Will is Purely Hypothetical

    CONTINUED

    I once had a discussion with a Calvinist who told me we can do nothing good of ourselves. We deserve eternal damnation, or rather, we don’t deserve it, we don’t deserve anything good or bad, because in Calvinism God is the one who created some just for destruction and others just to praise and bow down to him for eternity (while watching some of one’s earthly friends or even family receive God’s wrath for eternity, but you still must continue singing of course and praising).

    I told the Calvinist that if his son cleans his room but there’s still a speck of dust in it then I guess you paddle the kid for hours. Nice forgiving Calvinism. (Or your son disobeys you in some relatively insignifiant manner but obeys you in most other ways. Get out the paddle and paddle him for hours.)

    I also asked him, “If you’re a Calvinist then what do you do when your son cleans his room? Get down on your knees with him so you can both praise God that He hath made the room clean, rather than your son?”

    Yet you blame the son if it’s not completely clean, or if there’s a spec of dirt left in the room?

    So if anything goes right God gets all the praise, but if anything goes wrong humans get all the blame. Calvinism is a heads God wins, tails you lose religion. I suppose all Christianity is also like that to one degree or another, but Calvinism luxuriates in such a belief.

    Still, I bet you know some people in this life, friends, co-workers, loved ones, family, whom you love and trust, or whom you could love and trust if you let down your Calvinist religious walls.

    Some of the people you trust and love may even disdain Calvinism (like C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton). So you have to run around fearing that one day you may see the smoke of their destruction rising forever. And you know that you will have to praise God for the eternal destruction of these people who had EARNED your trust and friendship, even your love, on numerous occasions and in numerous ways. And had EARNED it the hard way, in this imperfect world filled with emotional outbursts, temptations, ignorance, suffering, disappointments, etc.

    So, to sum up . . . the God who commands you to love your enemies, he’s going to damn “His enemies,” including your friends. Which is one reason why I bet Calvinists attempt to keep themselves from seeking to emotionally connect too much with non-Calvinists, instead raising barriers of doctrine between themselves and other people. But why not simply cut the two lobes of one’s brain down the middle right now and become a true Calvinist?

    • Jouras

      Ed, from what superior position are you judging?

      You and you pal John Loftus would damn your enemies if you could.

      You know it. I know it. Loftus especially knows it.

      Who ya kiddin, sport?

      • Ed Babinski

        Jouras,

        I am judging based on the only way I know how to judge. Even if you believe in a personal God, one that endowed us with sense, reason, and intellgence, wouldn’t such a God want us to use such mental endowments rather than forgo their use? (Galileo)

        C. S. Lewis considered your point of view when he wrote, “To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on.

        “And Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro [heard of the Euthyphro dilemmma? look it up] is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.” (C. S. Lewis)

        Or as Voltaire put it:

        “The silly fanatic repeats to me that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the divine Being. That His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh? How, you mad demoniac, shall we judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions we have of them? Do you want us to walk otherwise than with our feet, and speak otherwise than with our mouths?” (Voltaire)
        _______________

        Jouras, you wrote, “You and you pal John Loftus would damn your enemies if you could.”

        That’s not an argument. Neither do I feel like damning anyone with even an eternal toothache, including Hitler. And I’ve stated that the only personal God that makes reasonable theological sense to me is that of George MacDonald’s. See for instance. . .

        HELL’S FINAL ENIGMA (not written by me)

        A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be burning in what he believed to be eternal hell. But if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” how can this be true? God has said that He will have “all” come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Does not emptiness abhor a vacuum, and what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be?

        Something written by the 19th-century univeralist Christian, George MacDonald, recently encouraged my own heart. . . Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell.

        “And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?–who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?”

        Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven? MacDonald’s words were a blessing for me to read.

        SOURCE: Shana (First-Grade Teacher, Therapist for Autistic Children, and creator of a universalist Christian website)http://www.webspawner.com/users/nicky0/index.html

        EXCERPT FROM “I BELIEVE” BY GEORGE MACDONALD (C. S. LEWIS’ “SPIRITUAL MENTOR”)

        I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing… That… hell will… help the just mercy of God to redeem his children… Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.

        SOURCE: George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from “I Believe,” Unspoken Sermons

    • randal

      “the God who commands you to love your enemies, he’s going to damn “His enemies,” including your friends. Which is one reason why I bet Calvinists attempt to keep themselves from seeking to emotionally connect too much with non-Calvinists….”

      I doubt that not least because I’ve never met a Calvinist who believed that assent to Calvinism is a necesasry and sufficient mark for one’s election.

      • Ed Babinski

        Randal,

        You wrote, “I’ve never met a Calvinist who believed that assent to Calvinism is a necessary and sufficient mark for one’s election.”

        I wasn’t disputing that most Calvinists are moderate enough to accept the salvation of other Christians. I was referring to Calvinists who for instance view Catholicism as a cult, or very close to it. Calvinism also includes within its spectrum some of the most hard line versions of inerrancy, and also leads to quite a few arguments between Christians themselves, even to the extent of some non-Calvinist Christians calling Calvin’s conception of God “monsterous” (G. K. Chesterton), and C. S. Lewis’s famous remarks:

        “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘so there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer,'” and further, “. . . believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshipping Him, is still greater danger.”

        Not to mention the remarks by Christian theologian, Robert E. Olsen, who has written extensively on Calvinism, saying, “IF it were revealed to me that God is as TULIP Calvinism says AND as he must logically be if all the good and necessary consequences of TULIP are true of him, I would not worship him.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/11/what-i-mean-that-i-would-not-worship-that-god/

        Also, among Christians I’ve only known Calvinists (and medieval Catholics) who could grow to be so hardline that they believed the saints in heaven would rejoice for all eternity at seeing the damned being tormented in hell. One Calvinist seminarian even made that the topic of his master’s thesis (he contacted me of all people looking for verification of some quotations): SEEING HELL: DO THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN BEHOLD THE SUFFERINGS OF THE DAMNED (AND HOW DO THEY RESPOND), which is online at the Reformed seminary’s website: http://www.rts.edu/Site/Virtual/Resources/Student_Theses/Johnson-Seeing_Hell.pdf

        Speaking of personal knowledge of hard line Calvinists, I have seen them argue on the internet. Steve Hays of Triablogue is one. I’ve seen him argue with J.P. Holding over TULIP. And argue with Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong. What personal derision. I didn’t feel so bad about his personal derision toward me after reading how he also treats fellow Christians in debate. Dave’s the friendliest of the three. You’re even friendlier than Dave in what you say and how you say it. *smile* But of the three your Christian theology is also the most moderate.

        One of my college friends converted to a version of hard line Calvinism, Reformed Anglican. I knew him for years, we played in a band in college and I dated his sister for a while in college, we remained friends after his sister and I split up. I visited him at his campus and at two of his churches (in NJ & Nebraska). At his campus group they were discussing Rushdoony the night I attended, his Chalcedon papers as to why stoning homosexuals was a simply divine idea, both literally and inspirationally. They chuckled over the topic as well as the slaughter of Canaanite children. But their chuckles seemed a little forced. At their church they did not appear extremely comfortable to see me. They had about 35 people there that Sunday. Not a large church. They put on a series of skits about people dying and coming to the gates of heaven and being quizzed as to what they did and what they believed. There were several skits involving different kinds of people, but everyone got sent down a coal shoot to hell at the end of the skit, except the last person, the Christian believer. And each time someone got sent down the shoot, a few members of the congregation peeked at me furtively over their shoulders. They were a small tight knit group of inerrantists. It was like they were acting out Chick Tracts. My friend was and maybe still is a huge fan of Calvinism and books by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company and had me reading Rushdoony at the time as well as Van Til. It appears that they hoped I’d get the point or were hoping for some sort of reaction from me at the end of each skit, either waiting to see if the Gospel was convicting me, or making me reject it violently. But I was dumbfounded at the skit, having seen it all before, and knew what was coming each time. I didn’t react in any of the fashions they might have expected, though my friend did take me back to speak with his pastor afterwards since I was having a lot of questions even back then.

  • Jouras

    If God exists, he can do whatever he wants.

    Don’t like it?

    Tough cookies.

    • Walter

      If God exists, he can do whatever he wants.

      “He” sure can. He can decide to torment everyone for eternity just because it gives him divine jollies to do so.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Jouras wrote:

    If God exists, he can do whatever he wants.

    Don’t like it?

    Tough cookies.

    If Triablogue ever needs an advertising jingle, that’s the one.

    • randal

      TAM, everything depends on how we define God. If God is defined as a morally perfect, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being then God can certainly do whatever he wants and whatever it is he does will be consistent with that perfect nature. And sure, since he’s omnipotent, then tough cookies.

      The problem comes when people read Jouras’ statement as implying that God would somehow be capricious and thus less than perfect, which by definition he cannot be.

  • Robert

    What Rauser neglects to include in his analogy, and truthfully it’s essential, is that humans do not deserve salvation.

    That’s a disgusting theology.

    You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil – you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself. — Dan Barker

    Ah! Much better! (And yes, I know that most Christians will reject secular views of morality, but I have yet to see a theistic moral theory that succeeds either.)

    • randal

      Robert,

      On the one hand I agree that human beings don’t deserve salvation. That’s why it is grace. And grace, when it is extended to us, is a most beautiful thing. Moreover, you should certainly agree that human beings have a very powerful ability to rationalize their behaviors and delude themselves into thinking they are more intelligent, more generous, and just all around better people than they really are. I know plenty of people who have moral blindspots in their character big enough to drive a truck through. I know many of my readers are thinking “Yeah, how about you Rauser, you jerk.”

      On the other hand, some Christian anthropologies so heighten “total depravity” that they simply discredit themselves (and some Calvinistic anthropologies are among them).

      Nobody captured the paradox of human being more eloquently and truly than Pascal: “Judge of all things, feeble earth-worm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe.”

      • Robert

        Good response Randal.

        Total depravity is another candidate for turning the dials to 11. Calvinists are right that human beings err, but then they go off the deep end saying that therefore all humans of all ages deserve eternal suffering (or perhaps annihilation). It takes a religion to come up with this stuff.

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    I am not sure how God’s justice is relevant to your point. God’s mercy on x has nothing to do with x. Therefore, God’s mercy is arbitrary. Even if that is more reasonable, I am not sure it is biblical. I can’t read the Bible and not come to the conclusion that mercy is God’s RESPONSE to please for mercy.

    • randal

      But what generates the pleas? God’s primary causal determination that people plead?

      • Adam Omelianchuk

        Oops! I typed my response to Andrew. Sorry.

        • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

          First, Randal, we don’t know if it’s causal determinism. In fact, I’ve argued that we should be agnostic on the model, and it may well be sui-generis. This undercuts arguments from analogy from mundane causal determinings.

          Second, unconditional election strictly speaking is the view that God doesn’t elect people on the condition that they first come to him in faith and repentance. That said, it is possible that he could elect x for some reason having to due with x, just not x’s meeting of the condition of faith and repentance.

          Third, it is fallacious to reason that: if the reason is not grounded in x, and we don’t know the reason, then there is no reason. This confuses epistemology with metaphysics.

          • randal

            “First, Randal, we don’t know if it’s causal determinism.”

            That depends on how broadly we’re using the concept of “cause”.

            “if the reason is not grounded in x, and we don’t know the reason, then there is no reason.”

            Of course we’ve had a go around on this before. I agreed that God could, for the Calvinist, have all sorts of reasons (e.g. the desire to cobble together a meanagerie of token examples from every race). But we can see that the type of explanations open to us are morally inconsistent with an omnibenevolent God.

            • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

              Not just how broadly, also which model of causation we’re using. For example, on counterfactual causation, you’re God causes all manner of evils.

              I thought I responded to your defeaters?

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Sorry for being off-topic but I wanted to share this worthy (I think) post by atheist ethicist Alonzo Fyfe about the current US political debate over the practice of waterboarding

    • randal

      Thanks for that. I dont think the “doesn’t work” is a bad reason not to torture other people, but if it’s your only reason then I’d have a problem with you. I think Ron Paul is the only serious Republican candidate. Cain and Bachmann are both clowns who forgot their make up and rubber noses.

  • Walter

    Randal says: … I agree that human beings don’t deserve salvation.

    It would be the height of arrogance for any person to claim that they deserve an afterlife of eternal bliss, but on the flip side, I do not believe that humans deserve an afterlife of eternal suffering either. After all, if we are a flawed creation, then it seems that our creator should shoulder some of the responsibility for creating us with a penchant for doing things which tick him off.

    • randal

      “if we are a flawed creation, then it seems that our creator should shoulder some of the responsibility for creating us with a penchant for doing things which tick him off.”

      To whom is he responsible? To us?

      I have no doubt that whatever moral obligations or duties God may have (obligations or duties which are rooted in the necessity of his own nature) he has met.

      • Walter

        That sounds like another way of saying the same thing Jouras did. Point being if humans are so flawed and broken, what does that say about our omnipotent and omniscient creator? It’s my belief that if there is indeed an omniscient creator, then we are exactly what that creator intended us to be, warts and all.

  • John

    Perhaps Randal Rauser you might help me to more understand the analogy you use above in which you ask us to imagine a young couple with a child into whom a chip which in implanted into the child’s brain which would ensure it makes decisions not to sin or rebel against their parents. For whom is this a benefit, the child or the parents?

    Your presumption seems to be that there is inherent good in a person sometimes making bad decisions. It seems we make the good arise out of the bad decision. For example, when a child touches a hot stove, we then teach him that stoves and ovens and what not can be hot and can burn the skin and cause pain and one should be mindful of hot surfaces. The need for this good lesson that arises out of this bad decisions is nullified if the child had a chip in his brain that forbids him ability to touch the hot surface in this first place. Further your assumption that there is inherent good in temporal bad decisions (rebelling against parents, choosing a les educational television program) seems to require a large leap (or at least some further explanation) if it is to be applied to decisions regarding eternal consequences, such as decisions regarding religious belief if you ascribe to the belief that belief in Jesus grants you salvation

    For example you write “well being includes free will.” How does this apply to the case for the individual who chooses not to believe in Jesus as savior. The only benefit from a free-will scenario seems to be for God if God is described as favoring non-automaton type decisions (i.e. being the type of entity that prefers being loved via free-will decisions). Could God not have designed it such that a free-will decision was indistinguishable from a non-free-will type decision, thereby granting people all the benefits which theoretically might arise from them believing that they “choose” to love God freely? Would such an action by be a sacrificial action on God’s part (surrendering his preference for only being loved by those who freely choose love him/believe in him) for the sake of humanity (everyone is granted salvation)?

    • randal

      “Your presumption seems to be that there is inherent good in a person sometimes making bad decisions.”

      No.The presumption is that there is inherent good in a person making free decisions, even if some of those decisions are evil.

      “your assumption that there is inherent good in temporal bad decisions”

      I don’t assume bad decisions are good. I assume that bad decisions can be a part of a cumulative moral history which is on balance sufficiently good that it outweighs the bad of the evil actions such that God opts to allow those free actions to occur.

      “Could God not have designed it such that a free-will decision was indistinguishable from a non-free-will type decision, thereby granting people all the benefits which theoretically might arise from them believing that they “choose” to love God freely?”

      Well, they wouldn’t objectively have all the benefits just like a person living in a matrix which was indistinguishable from the real world wouldn’t have the benefits of existing in the real world. But you might think “Who cares if I can’t tell the difference?” I can’t argue with that (meaing, I probably can’t argue you out of that position) except to say that many people, myself included, have different intuitions that the way things really are matters. Having free will really matters.

      • John

        Randal Rauser you write “The presumption is that there is inherent good in a person making free decisions, even if some of those decisions are evil.”

        If there is inherent good in making free decisions, when it comes to the ultimate decision (to believe or not), is their inherent good for the person making the decision not to believe (if you ascribe to a theology that requires belief for salvation, and non-belief results in eternal damnation) – or is the inherent good only appreciated by God, who gets to weed out those who, you know, haven’t expressed belief in the way that God prefers (even though this is to the individual’s eternal detriment). That is, does God’s preference trump an individual’s eternal well-being?

        You additionally write “I assume that bad decisions can be a part of a cumulative moral history which is on balance sufficiently good that it outweighs the bad of the evil actions such that God opts to allow those free actions to occur.” Does this boil down to something along the lines of in the end there will more good that bad. Is this a 51/49 balance at the end? Can this balance of good still allow for eternal damnation (for those who believe such things)?

        When you say “I don’t assume bad decisions are good” – but that they contribute to a vague overall balance of goodness at some vague time in the future – does this mean good for God, or good for those making bad decision? That is, again, is free-will good for the decision maker in this scenario, or good for God (i.e. his preference trumping well-being)?

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  • Ed Babinski

    Hi Randal,

    You wrote, “There are great difficulties in defending most of the things we believe most strongly about. For example, I believe strongly that I sense perceive the world but there are significant problems with every major philosophical theory of perception. That hardly raises a doubt in me that I don’t actually sense perceive the world.”

    Thanks for your reply Randal, But I hardly think that your religious beliefs are as universally shared or as axiomatic as our shared sense perceptions of the world. Sheesh.

  • Andrew

    Hello Randal,

    I have just published my response to your article on MandM. It’s currently awaiting review and should be up shortly.

    God Bless,

    Andrew

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  • Desi.

    I would push your argument further: If God abuses some of the kids, and rehabilitates others, he’s *not* being just. The requirements of justice demands him to treat all of them as they deserve. They all equally deserve punishment. God ought to equally punish them. That he doesn’t means either that the concept of “desert” or justice is a mere construct for the Calvinist.

    • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.com/ Kerry

      Desi:The requirements of justice demands him to treat all of them as they deserve. They all equally deserve punishment. God ought to equally punish them. No, this is only applicable to justice if God is “maximally just” as per Randall’s term “maximally loving”. But then if he is “maximally gracious” must he not forgive all? This really maximizes the problem doesn’t it?

  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

    My long comment about the atonement that I just posted a little while ago isn’t here anymore.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Thanks for the tip. I just found it (along with a bunch of other comments) in the spam folder. Not sure why, but they’ve all been restored.