This is a guest post by Zeno. It started life as a comment in the discussion for my article “If the God of Calvinism exists, would you worship him?” However, it seemed to me that this comment was of sufficient length, depth, and careful crafting (and carries such delightful terms as “Randal’s burden” and “Randal’s abominable conjunction”) that it was proper to place it on the main stage. To that end, I have taken the liberty of titling it “Calvinism as a logical contradiction.” And so, now without further ado, Zeno’s demonstration that Calvinism presents an incoherent picture of God which could not possibly be true…
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There is a lot going on here, so I would simply ask that you consider this carefully so that my work isn’t entirely wasted. Of course, I have no reason to doubt that you will. 🙂
Sorry, I concede nothing of the sort. When I said that if you help yourself to an implausible view, you are then able to defend other implausible views, I radically understated the claim. My claim—put more exactly—is that if you help yourself to incoherent or necessarily false views, then you can use them to defend other incoherent views. Let me say a bit about why that’s true, and the relevance it has to this discussion.
It is a principle of logic that incoherent statements entail everything. To illustrate, let us say that someone affirms A and ~A. Then we can infer B from their view, regardless of what B is. Witness:
(1) Suppose A and ~A.
(2) Therefore, either A or B. (from 1)
(3) Therefore, ~A. (from 1)
(4) Therefore, B. (from 2, 3)
So suppose someone offers us a conditional with an incoherent antecedent. Perhaps the conditional is “If God both is a square and is not a square, then we ought to worship God.” Another way to write this conditional is as an argument where the antecedent is the premise and the consequent is the conclusion:
(5) God both is a square and is not a square.
(6) Therefore, we ought to worship God.
Is this a valid argument? Of course it is, since we have already shown that everything follows from an incoherence. So the conditional “If God both is a square and is not a square, we ought to worship God” is true. But likewise for the conditional “If God both is a square and is not a square, we ought not to worship God.”
Now it will do you no good to say, “But the premise above is an explicit contradiction, but nothing is explicitly contradictory about the claim that God is perfectly good and decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for God’s glory.” The reason this will do you no good is not because this claim is false; it isn’t. Rather, the problem is just that something can be incoherent without being explicitly so. For example, the concept of a barber who shaves all and only those who don’t shave themselves is incoherent, but it does not where its incoherence on its sleeve. Further reasoning is required to bring out the incoherence. So, just because something is not explicitly contradictory upon first glance does not entail that it is not in fact incoherent. There could be, after all, a chain of reasoning using entirely a priori principles from the supposition to a contradiction. So we cannot satisfy ourselves that a proposition is coherent merely because its incoherence isn’t evident upon a superficial, first glance. And it could very well turn out that the proposition “God is perfect and decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for God’s glory” is a proposition that, when conjoined with other a priori truths, entails a contradiction. In fact, I think this is true, and will argue for this below.
So here is the sense of my claim: if you help yourself to incoherent views, then you can defend anything. I hope it is clear why I would say that. And by saying that, I hardly concede anything of substance to what you’re defending.
OK, now back to the issue at hand. You offer us the following conditional:
The Worship Conditional: “If God is absolutely perfect and freely decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of God’s glory, then we ought to worship God.”
Now presumably you not only think that this is true, but that the following conditional is false:
The No-Worship Conditional: “If God is absolutely perfect (a redundancy, given your notion of God) and freely decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of God’s glory, then we ought not to worship God.”
The burden of your posts, after all, has been to argue against this conditional, the No-Worship Conditional. It is entirely fair, therefore, for me to assume that you think it is false. So your position is the following:
Randal’s Burden: The Worship Conditional is true and the No-Worship Conditional is false.
By now it should be clear that Randal’s Burden is true only if the antecedent of the Worship Conditional (which is identical to the antecedent of the No-Worship Conditional) is coherent. For if it is incoherent, then it entails everything, and the No-Worship Conditional will come out true(for the reasons clearly and meticulously spelled out already), contrary to Randal’s Burden.
OK, so far so good. At this point, I came in and argued that the proposition “God is absolutely perfect and decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for God’s glory” is incoherent. My thesis is not that it is explicitly incoherent, but rather that when it is conjoined with other a prior principles, it entails a contradiction. My argument—recast a bit, but essentially the same—is as follows:
(7) Suppose that God is absolutely perfect and that God freely decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of God’s glory.
(8) Therefore, God is absolutely perfect. (from 1)
(9) Necessarily, if God is absolutely perfect, God does nothing that is wicked. (a priori truth)
(10) Necessarily, it is wicked to freely decree the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of one’s glory. (a priori moral truth)
(11) Therefore, God does nothing that is wicked. (from 8, 9)
(12) Therefore, God does not freely decree the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of God’s glory. (from 10, 11)
(13) Therefore, God freely decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of God’s glory. (from 1; contradiction).
I believe that this argument shows that the Calvinist view entails a contradiction. Calvinism, therefore is incoherent, on my view.
Now here is an interesting point, one that has been glossed over in this discussion. If you are going to defend Randal’s Burden, then you must argue that the Worship Conditional is true but the No-Worship Conditional is false. (And in fact, that IS what you have been arguing.) But that entails—please see this, because it is hugely important—that the antecedents of those conditionals are coherent. (If they aren’t, then for the reasons given earlier, both conditionals will come out true, contrary to Randal’s Burden. Please review those arguments carefully if this point is not yet clear.) Your thesis—Randal’s Burden, that is—entails that the proposition “God is perfectly good and God freely decrees the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of God’s glory” is at least coherent. But the argument I have given, if sound, entail that this proposition is not coherent, since, if sound, the argument shows that the supposition implies a contradiction. (My argument is plainly valid, so the only thing preventing it from being sound is if it contains a false premise.) You are therefore committed to rejecting a premise of my argument. But the only premise you could possibly reject is premise (10). So, perhaps without noticing it, you have committed yourself to the falsehood of (10). On your view, then, it is possible—at least in the epistemic, if not the metaphysical, sense of ‘possible’—that God freely decrees the eternal ruin of human persons but thereby does nothing wrong. You are committed, therefore, to what I shall call “Randal’s Skepticism”:
Randal’s Skepticism: Given what we know about morality, we cannot know that it is wicked to freely decree the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of one’s glory.
Now I think all fair-minded readers of this blog—not all readers are fair-minded, of course—will see this as quite a substantive claim, even a quite astonishing claim. The reason I brought up the torture case is because I assume that you are sensible enough to know that the following is true:
Zeno’s Non-Skepticism: Given what we know about morality, we can know that it is wicked to command humans to inflict torture on innocents merely for amusement.
Now, from what you’ve said, it’s obvious that you agree with Zeno’s Non-Skepticism. Your position about our moral knowledge, therefore, entails the following conjunction:
Randal’s Abominable Conjunction: Given what we know about morality, we cannot know that it is wicked to freely decree the eternal ruin of human persons for the sake of one’s glory but we can know that it is wicked to command humans to inflict torture on innocents merely for amusement.
You are committed to Randal’s Abominable Conjunction. Your position, therefore, can be no more plausible than Randal’s Abominable Conjunction, since your position entails it. (It is a truth of probability that if P entails Q and Q has a probability of N, then P has a probability less than or equal to N.) Presumably you think your views are very plausible indeed. So, you are committed to thinking that Randal’s Abominable Conjunction is very plausible.
At this point I believe that argument might have run out—it always does, doesn’t it?—and I have to simply confess that I have no idea why someone would find Randal’s Abominable Conjunction plausible in the least. It is as though we were told that, on the basis of perception, we can know that there are trees but cannot know that there are flowers. In the perception case, we would say that the same tools that enable us to know there are trees also enable us to know that there are flowers. Likewise, I think that the same moral reflection that enables us to know that it is wicked to torture innocents for fun also enables us to know that it is wicked to intentionally issue a decree that guarantees the eternal ruin of human persons for one’s glory. But to a moral skeptic of the sort that you seem to be—which is not, let us note, to say that you are a total moral skeptic—will likely find this psychological report uninteresting. And here we simply part ways, I with my moral conviction, you with your theologically-induced moral doubt. But what more could be expected from a conversation in which it is disputed whether we can know that the God of Calvinism is a horrific figure indeed?