Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pretty Sure...

I'm over this blog. Peace.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part XII

I recently read through a section of Clark's work entitled "Responsibility and Determinism", and decided to break my critical response to it into two blog posts. The first answered the initial claim Clark makes on the basis of Romans 1: that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will, but on knowledge. I found Clark's conclusions to be lacking warrant, and in fact found the language used and presuppositions latent in Romans 1 to imply something quite incongruent with Clark's position on responsibility.

Interestingly enough, "Responsibility and Determinism" goes on to admit that responsibility is not actually contingent on knowledge after-all. But Clark nevertheless maintains that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will either. To make this case, he offers a counter-example: the teaching of Romans 5:12-21. In my second blog post on "Responsibility and Determinism", I wrestled with the meaning of Romans 5 in light of Ezekiel 18 and other passages concerning judgement. I found Clark's assumption that Romans 5 teaches that every human shall be held morally responsible for Adam's sin to be without Biblical foundation. Whatever it was that we inherited from Adam, it wasn't moral guilt for his sin. Therefore, Romans 5 is no counter-example to the position that moral responsibility is contingent on human Free Will.

What I failed to review in my second post, was what Clark contends that responsibility is in fact grounded in. This is what I hope to do in this post. I apologize for taking 3 long posts to critically review roughly a page of text, but Clark references some big ideas and makes some bold assumptions in the span of very few words, and I don't want to be too hasty in reply. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Clark says that:
1. A person is responsible if he can be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds.
2. Responsibility presupposes a superior authority that rewards and punishes.
3. The highest authority is God.
4. Therefore responsibility is ultimately dependent on the power and authority of God.

(1) seems true. It might not be the only way to describe responsibility, and it might not capture its full scope, but it does seem that the set of all persons who are responsible is equal to the set of all persons who can be justly rewarded or punished for their deeds. And it seems as though this equality is not a coincidence, but that responsibility is predicated on praiseworthiness/blameworthiness or perhaps vice versa.

(2) is precarious. First of all, it is not clear whether Clark intends for (2) to be implied by (1). If he does, I think it is a mistake because the mere capacity to be justly rewarded or punished does not necessarily require that rewards or punishments actually be given, or given by a superior authority.

If Clark were to intend (2) to simply be self-evident, I think that would be a mistake as well. When we talk of "responsibility" we simply mean "fault" (even if "fault" grounds the justice of deserts).

Here is a counterexample: If there were no God, and the whole world were ruled by a dictator who extinguished all of the Jews without ever being opposed, we would still say "Hitler Prime" was 'responsible' for extinguishing the Jews. It is not necessary to presuppose a superior authority who justly punishes Hitler Prime in order to call Hitler Prime the one responsible for the "Holocaust Prime". He is responsible because he did it, and nobody made him do it. Such fact may mean that it would be just to justly punish him, but not the other way around.

This is how we're able to talk about people "getting away with murder". These are individuals who are responsible for committing crimes, who are never justly punished. But the fact that they are never justly punished doesn't mean that they aren't the ones responsible for their offenses. (If they aren't, who is?)

(3) is obviously true.

What are we to do with (4)? If the truth of (2) is in question (even before an analysis of the validity of this ill-formed syllogism), then the soundness of the argument is already suspicious. But even if the argument for (4) isn't sound, (4) might still happen to be true.

To investigate the truth of (4), we should first try to understand what Clark means by "responsibility is ultimately dependent on the power and authority of God.". Fortunately, he elaborates for us:
It is [God's] will that establishes the distinction between right and wrong... Most people find it easy to conceive of God as having created or established physical law by divine fiat... But for some peculiar reason, people hesitate in applying the same principle of sovereignty in the sphere of ordinary ethics. Instead of recognizing God as sovereign in morals, they want to subject him to some independent, superior, ethical law - a law that satisfies their sinful opinions of what is right and wrong.
Clark believes that God can do whatever and judge however He wants, and that His actions and judgements will be, by very definition, just. Therefore, if God causes people to commit evil and judges them for doing so, so be it, it is just. In fact, if God were to do evil, it would be just. Good and evil might have just as well been inverted from what they are, and we could have been calling what is good in this world, "evil", and what is evil in this world "good". It was God's call either way.

The alternative to God's "sovereignty" over what constitutes Goodness, according to Euthyphro Clark, is that in order for God to be good, He must adhere to some concept of Goodness outside Himself.

Clark's position is tricky. As Christians we want to affirm that God can do anything He wants, and we want to deny that there exists anything outside of God. So it is easy to nod our heads along with Clark's leading propositions, that God can do anything and that whatever God does is just and that however God judges is just. But by the time we come around to Clark's conclusion, we are repulsed. Why?

There are two issues here that Clark's view muddies. The first issue pertains to God, and the second to God's created self-Images.

While it's true that God can do anything He wants, it also happens to be true that God only wants to do things that are logical. This is why the Evangelist is comfortable saying that God is logic. Not that Logic is God, but that God is logic. That is, logic is a description of God's character; God is orderly and not chaotic. He wouldn't, and in fact couldn't create a round square, or cause 2 + 2 to equal 5.

Would Clark say that God is similarly "sovereign" over His existence? Could God make it such that He never existed?

No, He couldn't. These are logical impossibilities, and since God is logic, they are Godly impossibilities.

And the same goes for love. John is also comfortable saying that God is love. Not that Love is God, but that God is love. Love is a description of His character. It is not as if love or logic exist outside of God's ontology in such a way that God must adhere to them. Rather, they emanate from God's ontology. And since God is immutable, that is, He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then things that describe His unchanging character, such as logic and love, are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And if that's the case, then God cannot be loving and logical one day, and hateful and irrational the next. He is bound to be Himself. Furthermore, God is united and not divided. His attributes inform one another, and his love cannot behave irrationally, and similarly his logic can never be hateful.

There are things that God's character binds Him, or to use a word Clark has a felicity for, "determines" Him to be or do. In this way, we can coherently talk about God's need to behave justly, logically, or lovingly, without presupposing standards external to God.

This splits Euthyphro's Clark's "dilemma" through the horns.

In this way, if it is the case that causing someone else to sin, is itself a sin, then it cannot be the case that God does it and thereby makes it just.

So, is it evil for God to cause others to commit evil (ignoring, for a second, the verse in Mark that suggests such)? Doesn't it just seem true? But what of Clark's point about our sinful opinions about right and wrong? Such questions lead us into the second issue that Clark's rhetoric muddies: whether humans can know the difference between right and wrong.

Clark co-opts his readers' desire to be, or at least to appear to be, humble. He claims that saying God has to be one way and not another is arrogant, and presupposes our ability to know what is right and what is wrong. Manipulative rhetoric like that isn't helpful to the discourse, because it prevents us from using the "sound mind" that Paul says God gives us to think about the issue. It manipulates us into adopting Clark's position outright, because even so much as a peep of criticism is labeled arrogance and heresy and indicates reprobation.

In rebuttal, I offer two points. The first is that if our faculties have been so damaged by the Fall that we are unable to discern between good and evil, than certainly such damage prevents us from rightly dividing the Word of God as well. There is no way that we are capable of correctly and certainly interpreting the Bible, but yet incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. And if that's the case, then how can I trust Clark's interpretation of the Bible? I can't. And therefore this whole debate is pointless, because I can't know whether it would be evil for God to cause evil, and Clark can't know whether the Bible says that God causes evil or not. So why did Clark write a book about it and why am I arguing with him?

The second point is that the scriptures teach that even the reprobate man has God's very law written on his heart, and that even the reprobate man's conscience bears witness to it (Romans 2:14-15). So how much more does the regenerate man understand the division between right and wrong! How much more does the man with God's very Spirit indwelling him have access to the meaning of justice!

So although Clark thinks that God could do anything, even cause evil, and it would be just, I think that God can only do those things which are in fact just. And that would exclude causing evil or causing others to do evil, per both the Mark verse and my hopefully God-implanted and Spirit-led intuitions concerning justice.

In other words: yes, something is good simply because God is or does it, but God's character and behavior are not arbitrary. Therefore, since deterministic Calvinism teaches that God is and does things that can be shown to be against His character, it is therefore in error and so must have gone hermeneutically or presuppositionally awry somewhere.

Clark concludes this section with a far-fetched ad hominem about Platonic dualism. Kind of ironic, since Calvinism has been historically accused of committing the same error as Manichean dualism (perhaps due in part to their forefather Augustine's Manichean roots). What are you gonna do.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Fathering Thus Far

Baby: *cries*
Dada: Buddy, you know I always give you your pacifier back after you lose it! There's no need to panic.
Baby: That's called the inductive fallacy, Dad. There is no guarantee the future will resemble the past. There is ample reason to panic!
Dada: Just because we have reason to believe inductive reasoning isn't conclusive, doesn't mean you are warranted in believing conclusions contrary to those suggested by an inductive process. It's called learning to trust your Dad.
Baby: I love you Dad. Can we get back to reading Plato's Republic, now?
Dada: I love you too, Son. *tears up*

When I saw my son for the first time, it was love. But now I look back and realize I hadn't even gotten to know him yet. He was so slimy and sort of grey. Now he is dry. And more pink colored. And he snores. And other fun things. I like him.

He is learning to smile. Which is adorable.

I can't speak lowly enough of Baby-Wise and other "cry-it-out" methods. More on this perhaps in an anathematizing future post.

I can't speak highly enough of our providers - the pediatrician, the midwife, and the nurses. My mother-in-law is a saint. She comes and has fun - fun, mind you - cleaning our house and holding our baby.

Also my family. Close friends and family. Their love and support and generosity and eager arms have been hugely helpful. Way to be helpful, guys.

But the real star is my wife. She stands head and shoulders above us all for the hard work she's put into pregnancy, labor, delivery, breastfeeding, Soren's infancy in general so far... I could easily go on. I married the right woman. Hands down.

I was a little concerned about spoiling my son, since his needs have been so well met so far, and he already has an abundance of toys and textures. But I think I am actually okay with that. I just want to be intentional about teaching him humility and generosity.

He is very obedient so far, in fact. I tell him to be cute and to smell good and he does it. Good boy.

My wife has taken to calling him "Pumpkin", but it sounds more like "Punkin".

My nicknames for him so far include Dino-Soren, Sweet Baby Boy, Sweet Baby Son, My Son My Only Son, Snoren, and the like.

I am convicted to look to live a more righteous and generous life as a model for him. Lord, help me to take my responsibility seriously and to be a good model for my son, and help him to excel far beyond whatever goodness You have granted me. Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Great Bible Giveaway

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new online Bible by giving away 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part XI

I recently read through a section of Clark's work entitled "Responsibility and Determinism", and decided to break my critical response to it into two blog posts. The first answered the initial claim Clark makes on the basis of Romans 1: that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will, but on knowledge. I found Clark's conclusions to be lacking warrant, and in fact found the language used and presuppositions latent in Romans 1 to imply the opposite.

Interestingly enough, "Responsibility and Determinism" goes on to admit that responsibility is not actually contingent on knowledge after-all. But Clark does maintain that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will either. To make this case, he offers a counter-example: the teaching of Romans 5:12-21:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If all of humanity is morally responsible for Adam's sin, then moral responsibility is not contingent on Free Will (for surely not every human freely willed Adam to sin!).

But is that what Romans 5 teaches? Are we all really guilty for our great+ grandfather's sin? A face-value reading of Romans 5 with Calvinistic categories in our minds would seem to imply so, but it poses five problems.

The first problem is that there are other passages of scripture whose face-value readings seem to directly contradict a face-value reading of Romans 5. One of the clearest is Ezekiel 18, whose summary is found in verses 20b and 30a:
The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself...

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD.
[This chapter also contains a statement (verse 23) whose face-value reading seems to directly contradict the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and reprobation: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?".]

Ezekiel 18 seems to teach that God judges each individual according to his own ways, and that each individual's righteousness or wickedness is upon himself or herself, not that God judges each individual according to Adam's ways, and that Adam's wickedness is upon each individual. So between the Calvinist reading of Romans 5 and the face-value reading of Ezekiel 18, something has to budge. Should it be the Calvinist understanding of original sin?

The second problem that the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 5 poses is that Romans 5 uses identical language in describing both the scope of the consequences of Adam's sin, and the scope of the consequences of Christ's free gift. It says that one trespass led to condemnation for 'all' men, and that one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for 'all' men. And when it uses the term "many", it uses it the same way: through one man's disobedience, the 'many' were made sinners, and through one man's obedience the 'many' were made righteous.

Yet since we know from the rest of scripture, and even from Paul's own writings, that not literally all men are justified and given life, we have reason to doubt the Calvinist reading of "one trespass led to condemnation for all men".

The third problem that the Calvinist reading of Romans 5 has is that it is not conclusively entailed by the language used. Paul says that sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin. The phrase "sin came into the world" doesn't necessarily commit us to anything more than believing that Adam was the first sinner in the world. That death entered into the world "through sin" doesn't spell much else out for us other than that Adam died because of his sin. I am personally unsure about whether Paul means physical or spiritual death in this and subsequent verses, or both, or each in different contexts. Perhaps his offspring were born mortal because of his sin (but I don't see how this verse conclusively teaches that our inherited mortality implies our inherited moral responsibility for Adam's sin). "And so death spread to all men because all sinned... even [to] those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam" could possibly mean that subsequent humans sinned in various ways and thereby incurred death (and not, necessarily, that Adam was the federal head of humanity, unless there are aspects of the Greek grammar that entail such an interpretation that I am not aware of).

The fourth problem with the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 5 is that the penal math doesn't add up. Or rather, it adds up to too much. If charges were levied against Adam, then there wouldn't be any to levy against subsequent plaintiffs. This is the same argument the Calvinists themselves use to defeat unlimited atonement: if Christ truly paid for the sins of an individual in full, the Judge has no further charges to levy against them, and there are therefore no grounds for their punishment. For God to require payment for sins that have already been paid for would be unjust. If this logic holds for the mechanics of the atonement, it holds for the mechanics of original sin too. Therefore if Adam was held responsible for his sin, then his offspring cannot be.

The fifth problem with the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 5 is different. This one is not a problem inherent in the doctrine, but an objection to the possibility that Clark or another Calvinist might use one variant of the doctrine as a counter-example to the principle that moral responsibility is contingent on Free Will.

Some Calvinists might object to the other four problems I've outlined with something like "But Adam's sin wasn't just his own. When he sinned, all of humanity was bound up in him and sinned too.". I think this is close to Jonathan Edwards' position. There may be internal problems with such a view, but today I would just like to point out that if that's the case, then it might be that humans are morally responsible for Adam's sin, but not on the basis of inherited guilt. If every subsequent human participated in Adam's sin and is thereby guilty, then it would be an example of moral responsibility being grounded in human Free Will, not a counter-example.

As of tonight, it is not clear to me what Romans 5 means. I can trace some of the boundaries of the meaning, but cannot fill in all of the soteriological details about original sin.

Now don't blow this out of proportion; I am not trying to make room for what is commonly called "Pelagianism"; I maintain that Adam and every human being with a biological father need a Savior, salvation cannot come by works, and we inherited a lot more than a bad example from Adam.

But I am not convinced we inherited guilt. I am not convinced we are held morally responsible for Adam's sin.

I think in the end my view turns out to be something like Copan's.

Therefore I am not convinced that the teaching of Romans 5 stands as a counter-example to the principle that moral responsibility is grounded in Free Will.

Well, since I only got through the second paragraph of this section, and there remain four or five more, I will save the rest for subsequent posts. In the next post I really hope to get around to explaining what Clark believes moral responsibility is grounded in and why I find such view wanting.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part X

I just read through a section of Clark's work entitled "Responsibility and Determinism". I am going to split up my review of it into two blog posts.

The first post will examine a claim that Clark makes in the first paragraph of this section: that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will, but on knowledge. He advances this by no thorough exegesis or logical syllogism, only an aside about the first chapter of Romans.

I was surprised that Clark brought up Romans 1, because this passage has always appeared to me as one that would be challenging for a Calvinist to take seriously. Here is what Paul writes, starting at verse 18:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
It seems to me that Paul is not trying to say that these men were determined to do what they did but were also given some knowledge concerning God and are therefore morally responsible. He doesn't say that these men couldn't have done otherwise.

Rather Paul says just the opposite: that these men knew better; they could have worshipped Him. His existence and invisible attributes are evidenced by what He has made, and yet these men chose to reject the Truth.

Clark's casual lack of exegetical treatment makes it seem as though this passage so clearly denies that responsibility is contingent on Free Will that it requires no more than a quick allusion.

But if Paul had written the passage in such a Calvinist way, it would have come out more like:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of [He causes in] men, who by their unrighteousness [the absolute predetermination of God's secret will] suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [even though it was by God's causal decree that they sinned] they are without excuse [due to the fact that they were also given some knowledge concerning God].

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
If God is jealous for His own glory, why would He cause men to exchange His glory for images of men, birds, and animals? If God wants above all to be worshipped and enjoyed forever, why would He cause the men of Romans 1 to worship idols instead of Him?

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

Paul says that it is because these men, who should have known better, chose to exchange God's glory for idols, God gave them over to their lusts as a result:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Notice that God gave them over to their lusts after they chose to suppress the truth, and not the other way around.

Clark's reading of this passage would have us believing that God is enraged at these men for behaving exactly as He decreed (and not as they freely willed). Clark would have us believe that though God pretends He wants to be worshipped (His "revealed will"), He actually caused these men not to worship Him (His "secret will"), and that God became upset that they did exactly as He secretly caused but not as He outwardly commanded, and consequently gave them over to what He implanted in their hearts to begin with. Now these men will suffer eternal hellfire under His wrath.

At any rate, one paragraph later, Clark says that it actually isn't really just knowledge that grounds responsibility after-all. What he says it is that does in fact ground responsibility, and why I find such view also to be wanting, will be discussed in the next post.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part IX

The current section of Clark's work that I am journalling through is called "Appeal to Ignorance". He is responding to Free Will theorists who claim that Free Will makes the most sense out of their conscious experiences ("it just seems like I have free will and that my actions are not being predetermined").

Clark explains that it is ridiculous to think that you would be able to know whether your actions and intentions are being determined or not. In fact, it would require omniscience!

I pretty much agree with Clark in this section. Western science allows us to understand certain influences on our wills such as diet, exercise, social conditions, and weather. But it has no power to investigate metaphysical, unpredicatable, divine causation. So when we get cranky with our spouses and feel like our behavior is entirely our own, scientific data enables our minds to know better. But if our every action and intention is being supernaturally and unpredicatably determined, we would have no way of knowing better. If Calvinistic determinism is true of us, we might still feel "free".

However, under Calvinism, any misinterpretation of our "free" feelings would be due to God's causation. And while Calvinists claim that the fact that we have conscious wills grounds our responsibility for things like misunderstanding the world, it still seems strange and unbiblical that God would deceive us (even despite verses they use as prooftexts of their position that God deludes humans according to His good pleasure).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part VIII

I have been journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved" with a posture of openness to what the author has to say and honesty concerning my criticism of it. The current section is called "Puppets". In it Clark responds to the charge that Calvinism reduces men to mere puppets.

He begins with a brief defense of Presuppositionalism and a reiteration of his previous claim that Calvinism is positively deterministic. He explains that the London Baptist Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith in historical context, regardless of any "free will" looking language, condemn free will and espouse determinism.

To explain why the LBC and WCF contain some "free will" looking language, Clark draws again from the writings of the baptist John Gill. He starts by clarifying that Calvinistic determinism is distinct from materialistic determinism (likes Hobbes'). So, for example, while the planetary bodies may be materialistically determined by their initial conditions and physical laws (and the occasional miracle), human behavior is not completely determined by antecedent material conditions and physical laws. Rather, the means by which God determines human behavior is supernatural.

This difference is what accounts for the use of terms like "natural liberty" and "free agency" in the creeds.

To reiterate for the sake of clarity, Clark believes that mankind is "free" in two senses:

1. Man is free from coercion, because divine determination never goes against a human's will. Rather, God determines everything that each man wills. God's predestination establishes man's will.

2. Man is also free from material causation. No human being's behavior is completely determined by his biology as it interacts with its environment. Humans are free from the natural laws that govern things like planets.

It is this conscious "will" that humans have that makes them different than unconscious machines or puppets: the behavior of a robot is mechanically predetermined, and the behavior of a puppet may be actively determined, but it is still physically determined. Humans have the distinction of having conscious wills that are supernaturally determined.

But though terms like "will" and "agency" signify the distinct way by which human behavior is determined by God, they do not imply anything close to Free Will. Free Will holds that a will may be free from external determination altogether.

I learned a little bit about the historical Calvinistic understanding of agency from this section, and am glad of it. Some of the language in the LBC and WCF bothered me when I was a Calvinist, but now I understand how it coheres.

The problem, of course, is that none of this answers any of my objections. Whether or not human beings are determined naturally or supernaturally, they are still determined. And, being determined, they cannot be praised or blamed or held responsible for their actions. They may be unlike puppets or robots in having conscious wills, but they remain like them in their being determined, and that's what carries the force of puppet and robot objections.

Post Script

Clark believes that no human is ever determined against his or her will, because the very activity of each human's will is determined. I wonder what he would say about those of us who not only believe in libertarian free will, but would prefer it to determinism.

If we are in fact being determined the way Clark says we are, aren't we then being determined against our wills? I think Clark would say that God is causing us to desire not to be determined. And since, as a result of God's determining work in us, we do in fact desire not to be determined, He is not causing us to desire anything that we don't desire. But because of the reflexive nature of the quandary, it can still be possible for God to determine us to desire not to be determined.

In that way, our initial desire not to be determined does not exist against our wills, but that we are are being determined, even determined to desire not to be determined, occurs against our wills. Aside from painting a grotesque picture of God and man, this seems like it counts as "coercion". And while it isn't my biggest problem with Calvinism, I wonder how Clark or one of his followers might deal with it.

See also: How much does God control?

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part VII

I have been journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved" with a posture of openness to what the author has to say and honesty concerning my criticism of it. So far the work has largely comprised philosophical arguments attempting to undercut the idea of libertarian free will, which I have found unconvincing. I just finished reading through two sections that seem like they ought to be reviewed together, "Responsibility and Free Will" and "The Will of God".

Clark says that Free Will theory begins with God's goodness, and reasons from there. It attempts to maintain divine goodness in the face of evil, by placing the responsibility for evil on the heads of free agents whom God created. When Free Will theorists are faced with challenges to their view posed by Calvinists, they often ask what alternative Calvinism can possibly present. While Calvinists accuse Free Will theory of failing to maintain a robust view of divine omnipotence and omniscience, Free Will theorists accuse Calvinism of failing to maintain a robust view of divine goodness.

Clark believes that he has already shown that any notion of free will is logically incompatible with omnipotence and omniscience and fails to solve POE. And so now he promises to show how human responsibility and divine goodness can be possible under determinism, and how deterministic Calvinism resolves POE.

He quotes from someone who says that very few of even the most rigorous Calvinists would say that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it is the will of God. Clark, on the other hand very frankly and pointedly asserts that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it is in fact the will of God.

Though this seems contrary to scriptures, as though God could will something He does not will (drunkenness and murder), there is a way to resolve it. God, according to Clark, has a revealed will (or precepts) and a decretive will (or providence). In this way, God is able to verbally tell people to do one thing, but cause them to do another. Thus, Calvinism avoids self-contradiction.

He offers as an example, the story of Abraham and Isaac. God temporarily commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son (God's revealed, preceptive will), but secretly intended to keep Abraham from doing so (God's secret, decretive will).

Clark concludes these two sections by declaring that "if Arminians had a keener sense of logic they would not be Arminians!".

I think Clark is right about the different starting places of Calvinists and Free Will theorists. One starts with God's love and is therefore willing to limit the application of His power, and the other with His power and is therefore willing to limit the application of His love.

I think love is the right place to start, based on John's statement that God is love, and Jesus' statement that the most important thing for a human being to do is love God and love other human beings. I would much rather get love right at the expense of erring in my consideration of other divine attributes, than get omnipotence right at the expense of erring in my consideration of love.

On top of that, I think that Free Will doesn't require us to dilute our understanding of omnipotence anyway. It only requires us to consider that God does not fully exercise it all the time.

But the nature of love is different than the nature of power. By virtue of the fact that love is relational, it cannot be withheld in the same way that power can. The choice not to apply power in a certain circumstance does not mean God is any less powerful, but any choice not to be loving would in fact mean that God is less loving. A man who can bench-press 500 lbs. is powerful enough to do so whether or not he is actively doing it. But a man who withholds his love from some of his children while giving it to others in the same context is less loving by exactly that much.

Calvinism gets both facts backwards. It holds that God must fully apply His power in all circumstances to be omnipotent, and as a consequence He arbitrarily limits His love to some while withholding it from others. In this way, Calvinism starts in the wrong place and is misunderstood about the nature of the thing it starts with anyway (omnipotence), and as a consequence grossly misunderstands the nature of love.

Free Will theories, on the other hand, start where we should, with love, and everything else falls into place.

Now concerning God's secret will, by which He unequivocally determines whatsoever comes to pass, and His revealed will, by which He verbally commands His creatures to do good: I find this distinction, while it saves the logical coherency of Calvinism against one type of argument, to be completely ad hoc, unbiblical, and troubled by even a simple, common sensical regard.

First, the story of Abraham and Isaac cannot be seen as an example of this distinction. The reason is that all we have access to in the story is God's revealed will. God commands Abraham to kill Isaac, and then He commands Him to substitute a ram. Both commands are part of God's revealed will. Nowhere in the story do we see a description of God's secret will. It, being secret, is said to be the driving force behind nature and behind Abraham's and Isaac's behaviors. But the story doesn't tell us about the driving forces behind all of these events. The events themselves are described without mention of metaphysical mechanics. It could very well be the case that Abraham and Isaac each had free will. This story can be coherently read under either a deterministic Calvinist framework, or a Free Will framework. But it is not a conclusive example in support of either. And if this is supposedly the clearest, flagship example of the Calvinist doctrines concerning God's secret and revealed wills, it should tell us something.

Second, it must be realized that nowhere in the scriptures do we see anything remotely close to this doctrine taught. It is entirely a fabrication devised by the Calvinists to save the coherency of their philosophical system. And it is especially hypocritical of Calvinists to do this.

Third, these doctrines would have us believe that God is divided against Himself, both willing sin and not willing sin. Though there may be two different senses of "will", it is nevertheless bizarre. Why would God cause the very things He abhors, and against which His wrath burns? Take Jeremiah 19, for example. Doesn't it seem deceitful on God's part to verbally tell the people that He did not command or decree their evil deeds, and that they didn't even enter His mind (v. 5), if He was the one causing them the whole time?

Only a non-Calvinist worldview enables us to boldly and plainly hold to the simple, Biblical doctrine that God does not will evil. Evil is what is contrary to the will of God. We don't have to do any philosophical gymnastics to save our view or explain ourselves. It is plain and simple.

So Clark has shown that Calvinism might be strictly, logically coherent in the face of one particular type of objection. I am not sure how this is meant to constitute a robust account of human responsibility or divine goodness within a determinist framework or a resolution of POE, and so I guess I can only assume that all of what has been promised is yet to come. But I am truly baffled by Clark's arrogant concluding statement about Arminian logic, since this has been the first chapter in which he hasn't attempted to demonstrate logical errors in Arminianism.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part VI

I am journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved", as carefully and thoughtfully as I can.

The current section is called "Omniscience". In it Clark attempts to show that foreknowledge is not compatible with human freedom. By "foreknowledge" Clark means "omniscience", or more specifically "prescience", and not the traditional understanding of 'relational' foreknowledge said to be meant by Paul's use of the Greek "prognosko". From Clark's prose I can pick out four distinct arguments.

The first argument is written ambiguously. Either Clark is arguing that foreknowledge requires or implies causation of future events, or that it merely precludes the freedom of future events. At first I thought he intended the latter, but just after it he says "Suppose it be granted, just for the moment, that divine foreknowledge... does not cause the foreknown event". This implies that his argument was in fact asserting that foreknowledge causes future events. Additionally, he then goes on to argue that foreknowledge precludes freedom, even if it isn't causal. For these reasons I consider his first argument to be that foreknowledge is causal.

The argument itself goes something like the following. If God knows a future action, then the agent cannot chose otherwise than they will. This means that they have no free will. If free will doesn't exist, then God is the one causally determining everything.

The second argument is that even if foreknowledge isn't itself causal, it is nevertheless incompatible with free will. Clark says that if man has free will, then things can be different. If things can be different, then God cannot know how things will be for sure.

The third argument is that if God is not the one causing every event, then He cannot know what events will take place, and therefore cannot be omniscient. To be fair I cannot tell if this is meant to be a distinct argument from the second one.

The fourth argument is that if God is not the one causing every event, then His knowledge is dependent.

Even though I am anticipating the part where Clark gets to positive arguments for deterministic Calvinism in general, scriptural exegesis in support of Calvinism in particular, and the explanation of how Calvinism solves POE (though it seems to exacerbate it), I was nevertheless excited to see that he was getting into some metaphysics. The excitement quickly faded as I realized that he was only rehearsing old arguments without interacting with their classical rebuttals. While he seems well-versed in the history of Calvinist theology, he seems ignorant of the history of the free will discourse in the philosophical literature.

The flaw in the first argument is the confusion over what the determiner of a future free event is. The determiner of a future free event is the agent who will perform it. The event is thus foreknown because it is determined by the free agent, and not the other way around as the first argument goes. Just as knowledge of the past is not causal and knowledge of current events is not causal, foreknowledge is not causal. It is difficult to understand at first when it comes to foreknowledge because of the time disjunct, but it is nevertheless a mistake to think that any kind of knowledge can be causal.

The flaw in the second and third arguments is the conflation of two senses by which an event "can be different". In one sense, a free event can be different precisely because it is free. Or perhaps more accurately, the ability for an event to be more than one way is what makes it "free". Let's call this principle of alternate possibilities the "freedom sense of PAP".

But in another sense, a free event cannot be different than it is. This can be most easily understood by thinking about free events in the past. A free event that occurred in the past cannot now be different than it occurred. But this does not imply that it was not at the time performed freely, with the real possibility of alternatives. Let's call this principle of alternate possibilities the "matter of fact PAP".

Free events in the future are similar to free events in the past in their inability to be different. But this is merely because they lack "mater of fact PAP". That is, free events will unfold one way as a matter of fact and not another. Put another way, future contingents have a truth value. This is what makes foreknowledge possible: the fact that the future will be a certain way. But free events of all kinds also share their ability to be different. That is, all free events have the "freedom sense of PAP". That's what makes freedom possible.

Conflating the "freedom sense of PAP" with the "matter of fact PAP" is what leads to Clark's confusion. He mistakenly thinks that because future contingents have a truth value, they cannot be freely caused, and the inverse, that if events can be freely caused, then they cannot have a truth value in advance. My good friend Derek von Barandy believes arguments that presuppose foreknowledge alone precludes free will commit "Sleigh's Fallacy", and I am inclined to agree [Update 01/23/10: Derek articulates something similar here, which is a helpful read. Thanks, Derek!]. As I understand it, Sleigh's Fallacy goes something like the following.

1. P is true.
2. Therefore, P is true by necessity.

What should be inferred instead is:

1. P is true.
3. Therefore, P is necessarily true.

The difference lies in the sense of necessity. Given the fact that P is already true, it is now necessarily the case that P is true. But this doesn't mean that P is a necessary truth. True propositions don't bootstrap themselves into necessity.

Asserting that foreknowledge precludes free will makes the same mistake as inferring (2) above from (1), but adds tense.

To avoid this error, we need to focus on what the truth-maker of a given proposition is. The truth-maker of the truth of P is the state of affairs P describes. The truth of P is logically dependent on the truth of P. Similarly, the truth-maker of a future free event is the free agent who will perform it, and then as a logical result, God will foreknow the future free event.

Because God is God, He is able to have knowledge that logically proceeds future events, even though such knowledge chronologically precedes them. One way of making sense out of this is by maintaining that God is outside of time.

Boethius explains all of this in Book V of "The Consolation of Philosophy", especially from section 145 on.

Providentially, William Lane Craig's most recent Q&A addresses this very issue. It is the current question on the main Q&A page, but will eventually be archived as question 124. His explanation of the problem and its resolution are a little bit more philosophically technical than mine, but probably more clear in the long run. He does have 20+ years of PhD+ research under his belt after-all. (Here's his page on divine omniscience again, for reference.)

As for the fourth argument, I wholly concede its conclusion: that God has a type of knowledge which is dependent. This is classically called "scientia media", or "middle knowledge". This is a reference to the three categories of knowledge that God is traditionally regarded as having. The first category of knowledge concerns necessary truths. That is, propositions that cannot fail to be true. These would be things like "2+2=4", and "God exists". The middle category of knowledge concerns contingent truths and counterfactuals that God does not cause to be true. God's middle knowledge is logically dependent, but nevertheless complete and eternal. The last category of divine knowledge is God's "free knowledge", which includes those things that are true because God causes them to be true. (Here's the relevant Wikipedia entry, and here are articles on middle knowledge in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, if you're interested.)

It may yet be the case that God deterministically causes everything and that Free Will doesn't exist, but Clark's arguments in this section do not constitute good reasons to think so.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part V

I am journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved". It is a bit grueling for me because I used to be a Calvinist, and was eventually convinced that my theological system was philosophically flawed and unbiblical. The conversion process was really long and painful, and I came out quite a passionate non-Calvinist on the other side. Thus the gruel. We all have the tendency to want to defend our current position ("confirmation bias"), and I suspect that having been through such an intense conversion significantly strengthens this bias in myself. But I would really like to labor for a position of neutrality. Firstly, I am interested in finding the truth more than I am interested in defending my worldview. Secondly, if my worldview happens to be on the right track, I am confident that it will hold up under scrutiny.

My efforts to keep an open mind so far include:

1. The reservation of the first read of each section in the book as uncritical and sympathetic (similar to how Russell describes we ought to read the ancient Greeks at first).
2. Constant prayer for a soft heart, humility, and a sympathetic/philosophically charitable understanding.
3. Talking through my understanding of each section with friends when possible.
4. Constantly reminding myself of these and others goals, and of the fact that simply going through the motions and praying about it doesn't automatically mean I've arrived.

But this hasn't completely neutralized me. My friend Brandon, who gave me this book, has been commenting on Part III, and I find in myself the impulse to read his comments with an eye to see where they err, rather than an eye to understand them thoroughly, first and foremost. Wanting to stay this impulse, I try to work through his comments and see why they were made and why they might seem right. This process is good, but I find myself wanting to hurry through it so that I can go back over the comments critically and begin forming my reply. Tonight, reading over some of my replies, I see places where I could have worded things more humbly or charitably. I still hold my non-Calvinist position, and I think for very good reasons, but my rhetoric still needs reformation. And I think our words are often indicative of our attitudes. Please pray that I will press into the Holy Spirit as I study, that I will be clear-minded, soft-hearted, and loving.

If you have any ideas about how I can practically keep an open mind and wrestle with the material with greater intellectual honesty, let me know. A wise man loves rebuke ;).

At any rate, the current section of Clark's book is entitled "Gill's Exegesis". John Gill wrote a book called "The Cause of God and Truth", the first part of which contains thorough exegetical treatments of about 100 verses commonly used to support Arminian doctrine. Clark believes the work is Biblically devastating to Arminianism.

Since it would be impractical to reproduce all 150 pages, Clark shares a sample with the reader: Gill's exegesis of Matthew 23:37. Gill says that the proper way to understand this passage is that the Scribes and Pharisees ("Jerusalem") prevented Jesus from gathering their followers (Jerusalem's "children"), and not that Jesus would have gathered all of mankind, but certain individuals resisted.

In order for this to entail all that the Arminians want it to, it has to show how God desires to gather every single human, and that the reason He doesn't is due to individual refusals.

After this Clark comments on how, though Gill's writings were important, there remains work to be done in defense of Calvinism and in application of it to POE.

Here are my honest reactions to this section:

• I would like to take a look at a copy of Gill's book. I am interested in his treatment of certain passages.

• If Gill's exegesis is correct, it might show that this passage is coherent with a Calvinist metaphysic.

• Even if Gill's exegesis is correct, it would not prove the truth of Calvinism.

• Actually, it just dawned on me that this entire book, so far, has comprised attempts at undercutting defeaters of Arminian doctrine, and not any positive arguments in favor of Calvinism. And I am still a bit surprised at the lack of scriptures, and of rigorous scriptural exegesis. I was kind of expecting this to be a positive, exegetical defense of Calvinism; instead I am so far getting a philosophical attack on Arminianism. But I have to keep in mind that this was originally only a single chapter in a larger treatise, that I'm not half-way through reading it yet, and that this section is a start on scriptural considerations.

• If Gill is correct, this verse seems like it could be construed to nevertheless pose problems for Calvinist doctrine. Even if it was the religious leaders who prevented Jesus from gathering the Jews, we still see an example of God's will being in some sense thwarted. Jesus Himself literally affirms the contrafactual conditional. He says that He would have but that Jerusalem would not. So whether it was the Jews themselves preventing Jesus from gathering them up, or their leaders who prevented them from being gathered, the passage still presents an example of something God would have done if it weren't for certain human actions.

I think the Calvinist way of understanding this is to distinguish between God's secret will, and His revealed will. But I've always found this to be an ad hoc philosophical injection into the scriptures, which makes God out to be deceitful, divided against Himself, and something of a schizophrenic. It's as if God is playing dolls with Himself, causes some of them to do the things He abhors while verbally telling them not to, mourns over it, and destroys them out of wrath. All the while causing others to first sin and later repent and receive eternal blessings. It just doesn't make any sense and it does not thematically or exegetically jive with the scriptural texts.

So whether "Jerusalem" represents an abstract entity and her "children" represent the individuals within, or "Jerusalem" represents the Scribes and Pharisees and her "children" represent their followers, this passage yet seems problematic for deterministic Calvinism.

• On top of all that, I still don't find myself convinced of Gill's exegesis. He doesn't actually handle any grammatical, lexical, or contextual issues. All he does is show how his understandings of the words used make sense out of the passage from a Calvinist perspective, and how this verse falls short of a complete affirmation of an Arminian soteriology.

There is actually a long list of exegetes who interpret "Jerusalem" much like Gill says the "Arminians" do. Here are a quick three:
Lamentation over Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37–39)
Jesus spoke these words of lamentation as a sincere expression of His love for Jersualem, and His grief over the many opportunities for salvation that they had passed by. “Jerusalem” refers to the entire nation of Israel. The nation’s leaders had been guilty of repeated crimes as they rejected God’s messengers, and even killed some of them. But in His grace, Jesus came to gather the people and save them.

“I would have... ye would not” summarizes the tragedy of final rejection of the truth. There is no argument here about divine sovereignty and human responsibility, for both are included. God could not force His salvation on the people; neither could He change the consequences of their stubborn rejection. “You will not come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). [1]

In a final lament over the city of Jerusalem, Jesus stated His desire for that nation. Jerusalem, the capital, represented the entire nation, and people there had killed the prophets and stoned those sent to them (cf. Matt. 23:34; 21:35). He longed to gather the nation together much as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. The nation, unlike chicks that naturally run to their mother hen in times of danger, willfully refused (you were not willing) to turn to the Lord. They were responsible to make a choice and their choice brought condemnation. [2]

2. She refused and rejected Christ, and gospel offers. The former was a sin without remedy, this against the remedy. Here is, (1.) The wonderful grace and favour of Jesus Christ toward them; How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings! Thus kind and condescending are the offers of gospel grace, even to Jerusalem’s children, bad as she is, the inhabitants, the little ones not excepted.

[1.] The favour proposed was the gathering of them. Christ’s design is to gather poor souls, gather them in from their wanderings, gather them home to himself, as the Centre of unity; for to him must the gathering of the people be. He would have taken the whole body of the Jewish nation into the church, and so gathered them all (as the Jews used to speak of proselytes) under the wings of the Divine Majesty. It is here illustrated by a humble similitude; as a hen clucks her chickens together. Christ would have gathered them, First, With such a tenderness of affection as the hen does, which has, by instinct, a peculiar concern for her young ones. Christ’s gathering of souls, comes from his love, Jer. 31:3. Secondly, For the same end. The hen gathered her chickens under her wings, for protection and safety, and for warmth and comfort; poor souls have in Christ both refuge and refreshment. The chickens naturally run to the hen for shelter, when they are threatened by the birds of prey; perhaps Christ refers to that promise (Ps. 91:4), He shall cover thee with his feathers. There is healing under Christ’s wings (Mal. 4:2); that is more than the hen has for her chickens.

[2.] The forwardness of Christ to confer this favour. His offers are, First, Very free; I would have done it. Jesus Christ is truly willing to receive and save poor souls that come to him. He desires not their ruin, he delights in their repentance. Secondly, Very frequent; How often! Christ often came up to Jerusalem, preached, and wrought miracles there; and the meaning of all this, was, he would have gathered them. He keeps account how often his calls have been repeated. As often as we have heard the sound of the gospel, as often as we have felt the strivings of the Spirit, so often Christ would have gathered us.

[3.] Their wilful refusal of this grace and favour; Ye would not. How emphatically is their obstinacy opposed to Christ’s mercy! I would, and ye would not. He was willing to save them, but they were not willing to be saved by him. Note, It is wholly owing to the wicked wills of sinners, that they are not gathered under the wings of the Lord Jesus. They did not like the terms upon which Christ proposed to gather them; they loved their sins, and yet trusted to their righteousness; they would not submit either to the grace of Christ or to his government, and so the bargain broke off. [3]
Each of these comes from a longer and more detailed treatment than the one reproduced for us in Clark's book. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It's just not as if a simple, scholarly exegesis of this text reads like Gill says it does. It's not as if the scholars all agree and it's only within the laity that we find people who read this like an Arminian. It's just not that easy.

• As for establishing that God desires all men to be gathered, there are a long list of scriptures embedded within whole movements of history recorded in the Bible that establish that. The prophets record a God who expresses the deepest and purest yearning a being could possibly exhibit that every wicked person turn and repent so that He doesn't have to destroy them. The New Testament commentaries on the gospels explain that God gave His Son to die to make repentance possible for all men, and that God desires that nobody should perish, but that all repent and have eternal life.

I am only too familiar with the Calvinist understandings of these passages. They're just wrong, is all I'm saying.

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary (Mt 23:37). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
[2] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:75). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[3] Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Mt 23:34). Peabody: Hendrickson.

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part IV

I am journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved" with as open a mind and as prayerful a spirit as I can manage without being dishonest about my disagreements or overly shy in how I state them.

The current section is entitled "Reformation Theology". In this chapter, after a brief forward, Clark offers an argument for the historicity of Calvinism.

In the forward to "Reformation Theology" Clark argues that Calvinism is positively deterministic. He admits that at first glance, determinism seems to exacerbate POE. For it maintains the "inevitability of every event; and not only the inevitability, but also the further and more embarrassing point that it is God himself who determines... every action".

In other words: if Calvinism is true, then God caused every gruesome detail of the holocaust (and every other evil).

And this, Clark admits, seems to make POE even worse.

At any rate, Clark believes the dilemma is between deterministic Calvinism and Free Will. Since he believes he demonstrated that Free Will doesn't solve POE or make any sense anyway, he looks to Calvinism for a solution to POE, even despite its apparent exacerbation of the Problem.

Clark's look to Calvinism begins with a history lesson (desperately needed due to the widespread ignorance of the 20th century). This accounts for the bulk of the word count in the "Reformation Theology" section.

This section concludes with a more formal definition of Calvinism, taken from Chapter Three of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and a promise to put forth a positive defense of Calvinism in future sections.

Here are my honest reactions to what I am reading:

• I am glad that Clark (together with a whole new group of Calvinists) honestly admits what non-Calvinists have been arguing for centuries: that Calvinism is positively deterministic and there is no two ways about it. This intellectual honesty, and willingness to bite the determinism bullet, sets new Calvinists apart from older ones. And I think it marks progress of some sort.

• I am again disappointed by Clark's seeming inability to clearly handle philosophically complex issues. For example, in one of the introductory paragraphs, he asserts that if Judas had the ability not to deny Christ, then prophecy could have proved false. This argument, along with another argument implied by a question about whether God can make sure of the necessary events in His plan of redemption and an argument implied by a quotation of Acts 4, all presuppose that prescience and providence preclude libertarian freedom.

That might be the case, but Clark offers no argument for it! He simply presupposes it. This is a little disappointing from a writer so eager to question his theoretical interlocutors' presuppositions.

I find that various models of Middle Knowledge provide good reason to be skeptical of Clark's presupposition that prescience and providence preclude human freedom (cf. William Lane Craig's page on omniscience for an example).

• "Calvinism" is used anachronistically, but that's ok.

• A couple of Clark's historical excavations uncover early belief in the doctrine we call "Limited Atonement". I would like to note that I find L to be perhaps the most obviously true and intuitive of the five points, and I have no problem granting it without qualification.

• I didn't mention it in my summary of this section, but Clark remarks disparagingly against Erasmus. I find that pretty funny.

• Clark refers to Calvinism as "the apostolic teaching", and says that "this is what Christianity is" (emphasis mine). He can write how he wants, but it seems like the whole debate is about whether or not the teaching of the Apostles, as documented in the Greek canon, is Calvinistic, and whether or not certain non-Calvinist soteriologies may fit within the bounds of orthodox Christianity. I suppose it's only a matter of style, but I have to be honest about it rubbing me the wrong way. This is a journal after-all.

• As for the fact that "Calvinism", or at least its component parts, can arguably be spotted within the theologies of individual Christians and Christian groups going back perhaps as far as the first century: I think Clark knows that this hardly settles the issue, since he concludes with a pledge to deliver an actual defense of Calvinism (which, together with his resolution of determinism's apparent exacerbation of POE, I am keen on reading). Still, though it's interesting, let's be honest and label Clark's history lesson what it is: card-stacking. There are other plenty of traditions within orthodox Christianity that happen to be non-Calvinist in nature.

• I am also pretty disappointed, and quite frankly kind of offended, by Clark's equivocation between certain heretical views and views found firmly within the bounds of orthodoxy. Specifically he uses the phrase "Pelegian-Romish-Arminian". Not only is this indicative of ignorance by way of confounding quite distinct soteriologies, but it is constitutive of the type of divisiveness that St. Paul repeatedly condemns in his epistles. (It's also ironic to try to indict Arminianism of being "too Roman Catholic" as a soteriology, since, aside from the whole grace-through-faith issue in contrast to Rome's works-based model, the Reformers never got around to reforming Rome's eschatology, and to this day theological traditions exclusively concerned with preserving the exact doctrines of the Calvinistic Reformers hold to a very Roman Catholic Amillennial/Postmillennial eschatology. If all theological systems passed down from Rome are heretical, then...)

Let's be honest: as soon as there were councils condemning Pelegianism, there were councils condemning extreme determinism (actually the initial council on the matter condemned both). And as soon as certain sects began condemning Arminianism, there were others that upheld it.

Calvinism was never established as the only orthodox soteriology within Christendom. To my knowledge, in the historical and global scheme of things, it has actually always been in the minority (I guess it depends on how you bound "Christendom"). Clark himself admits that Free Will (which is exclusive of Calvinism) is the most popular solution to POE. Admittedly this fact by itself says nothing of whether Calvinism happens to be correct. It just grieves me to witness Calvinists accusing brothers and sisters of heresy, and I have frustratingly come up against it as an unfortunate pattern in Calvinist rhetoric.

May God grant me Christian charity for, and patience with, my Calvinist brothers and sisters despite their harsh consideration of all of us who disagree with them. May He also grant me the patience and clarity to thoroughly consider their arguments on a case by case basis despite my broad-stoke disagreements with them, and despite my criticism of their tendency to wield divisive rhetoric.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part III

I am journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved". I have worked out a good pattern for reading each section in this pamphlet to encourage open-mindedness in myself: first I read a section through for understanding, second for ideas about how a third-party critic would respond, and third to get a feel for how Clark (or the strongest version of Clark's argument) might answer such a critic. I try to saturate this process in prayer.

Right now I am reading the second section, entitled "Free Will". In this chapter Clark intertwines explanations of different historical versions of the Free Will view with his own commentary on how the Free Will view falls short as a solution to POE.

The Free Will view in general, Clark explains, is one of the most popular solutions offered for POE. The basic idea is that while God is omnipotent, He chooses not to exert His power fully in all cases, allowing humans to have the ability to choose between good and evil (with qualifications). This is meant to preserve God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, while giving an account for why evil yet exists in the world. The reason God chooses to allow humans to have a certain amount of free will, under the Free Will view, is that its possible goods (freely given love and freely performed righteousness) make it worth the risk (freely performed evil and freely withheld love). Thus, God has morally justifiable reasons for granting free will to human beings.

After explaining this much of the Free Will view, Clark pauses to challenge one of its presuppositions. The Free Will view seems to presuppose that being is better than non-being in such a way that even an unrepentant sinner is better off than a nonexistent entity. Clark quotes Christ's statement that "it would have been good for that man if he had not been born".

The next issue Clark takes with the Free Will view's apparent presuppositions, is that the Free Will view only works as a theodicy if the ability to do good and the ability to do evil are one and the same. The problem with this is that the Fall enslaved humanity in such a way that a post-Fall, pre-regenerate human is incapable of doing any genuine good, but can only do evil continually. And a post-glorified human will only be able to do good, and not evil. Even if pre-Fall man was in some sense able to do good or evil as he initially chose, the two other stages of humankind serve as counterexamples to the idea that the ability to do good and the ability to do evil are one and the same.

After this, the related issue of the nature of God's freedom is explored. Surely we want to say God is free in all of the most desirable ways, and yet He is literally and definitionally incapable of sin. After thinking about this, who could go on to claim that the ability to do good and the ability to do evil are the same?

Next Clark makes a couple of statements that resonate with me so strongly I want to shout them from the mountaintops:
One should never suppose that a phrase or a term means the same thing in every book in which it occurs. Each author chooses the meaning he desires, and each reader ought to try to determine what that meaning is... Strict definitions and strict adherence to them are essential to intelligible discussion.
He says that for his purposes in this book, "free will" will be used to "indicate the theory that a man faced with incompatible courses of action is able to choose any one as well as any other". I here swallow my objection to this definition as a gross oversimplification.

After this, Clark wants to explore something else with the reader: whether Free Will solves POE.

Clark answers the question, "no"; he believes that Free Will does not solve POE. To demonstrate this, he asks the reader to imagine a lifeguard on a beach. A boy comes out, of his own "free will", and gets stuck in an undertow. The lifeguard, though he has the power to save the boy, allows the boy to drown. In such a case, we will want to say that the boy's predicament being brought about by his own free will has no bearing on whether the lifeguard is culpable. The lifeguard should still save the boy, right?

This is meant to show that permission (as opposed to positive causality) does not absolve the Lifeguard of responsibility.

But this is what the Free Will theorist denies! The Free Will theorist says that creaturely free will absolves God of any responsibility to stop evil! Clearly this must be false, and Free Will is thus shown to be impotent to defend theism against POE.

Worse than its impotence to defend theism against POE however, is the fact that Free Will doesn't even make any sense. In the case of the lifeguard, he is able to permit the boy to enter the water because the boy and the water are all beyond his control. In God's case, since He providentially sustains and governs the cosmos, it is impossible to "permit" something without causing it. So Free Will doesn't solve POE and it doesn't even make sense.

Thus Clark believes he establishes that Free Will is impotent and nonsensical. Next he pledges to demonstrate that it is also false.

He concludes,
Certainly, if the Bible is the Word of God, free will is false; for the Bible consistently denies free will.
Here are my honest reactions to this section:

• I'm not gonna lie; I was a little disappointed in both the disorganization and philosophical opacity of this section. This is primarily a stylistic critique, but I think it is indicative of sloppy thinking.

• I can't help but think that Clark is mistaken about the Free Will view's presupposition that even a sinner is better off existing than not existing. It seems that the Free Will view only needs to presuppose that it is worth the risk, on God's part, to create a being with free will. I don't think one who holds a Free Will view is necessarily committed thereby to saying that if a free being is created and subsequently chooses to sin, he or she is still "better off" than if he or she had never existed.

• I think Clark misses the point when he offers his two counterexamples to the idea that the ability to do good and the ability to do evil are one and the same. It seems the Free Will view's presupposition is more specific: that the ability to freely choose good and freely choose evil are one and the same. Even if its true that post-Fall, pre-regenerate man is indeed incapable of doing true good because he is enslaved to evil, his evil would not be freely performed (even if it is "willingly" performed in some sense). Similarly, even if post-glorified man is indeed incapable of sinning because he is made a slave to Christ, his righteousness would not be freely performed in the relevant sense. So even if the mere ability to do good is not identical to the mere ability to do evil, the ability to freely do good may yet be identical to the ability to freely do evil. I think "free" in this context means just that: free from any restriction to do only good or only evil.

• As far as God's freedom is concerned, I concede that God is not free to do evil. However the good that God does is in fact freely performed in other significant ways. For example, God has the ability to creatively choose to do one good in alternate to another equivalent good, and He is free to do supererogatory goods on top of what His attribute of justice would require (we call this "grace"). But none of these goods are performed "freely" in the specific sense that God is not free from the characteristic restriction to do good only.

This is not to concede that "good" has any meaning outside of God's character. But God is unchanging (and therefore "goodness" is unchanging), and His goodness informs His actions; He is united and not conflicted. Thus, because God has the ability to do good, but not the ability to do evil, He does not have the ability to "freely" do good. Therefore God does not serve as a counterexample to the Free Will view's presupposition that the ability to freely do good is identical to the ability to freely do evil.

It should be noted that God is yet praiseworthy, but not because he is a morally responsible agent like humans and angels. God is praiseworthy because He is the source of Good itself. In this way He is beyond the category of moral responsibility (but not beyond the restrictions of consistency with His own character). In other words He is the Standard, whereas everyone else are held to the Standard. (And, as stated above, He can also be praised for doing supererogatory goods above and beyond the minimum bar of goodness that His attribute of justice sets.)

God is the only being that is morally praiseworthy on the basis of something other than freely performed good.

• I find the illustration comparing God to a lifeguard on the beach and comparing mankind to a boy drowning of his own free will, to be fatally disanalogous: the mechanics of morality, damnation, and salvation do not operate with a one-to-one correspondence to the mechanics of the choice to swim, the act of drowning, and the act of rescue as presented.

First of all, the drowning boy is passive, whereas sinners are active. Even though the boy got into the water of his own free will, he is not drowning of his own free will. Quite the contrary, he is freely wanting to live and be saved, but is being towed against his will. This contrasts the sinner, who willingly sins.

Second of all, and perhaps more importantly, the lifeguard in the story is passive and does not offer salvation, whereas God is active. God goes through great lengths to wright the means of salvation and offer it to everyone. This makes all the difference in the world between the lifeguard and God. If the lifeguard had jumped into the water and swam out to the boy and offered salvation, it would have been a bit more analogous. And then the boy would have had the opportunity to accept or reject the offer. If the boy had then rejected salvation of his own free will, he would have been a bit more analogous to a reprobate.

These two points alone dispatch the illustration, but it should also be noted that his caricature of the Free Will view is quite the straw-man. Under a Free Will view, whoever asks for salvation receives it. In Clark's illustration of the Free Will beach, a single decision to enter the water eternally damns a boy.

Concerning Clark's claim that permission, as opposed to positive causation, does nothing to absolve a lifeguard of responsibility: it seems obvious that allowing a person to enter the water and respecting their refusal to be rescued is entirely distinct from dragging a person into the water and drowning them against their will.

The lifeguard scenario can easily be turned against Clark's Calvinism. Under Calvinism, the Lifeguard actively saves drowning men, but not all of them. Even though he has the ability to, and even though all the men are in the exact same predicament, he arbitrarily chooses some to save and others to drown. Surely this is the most counterintuitive picture of a God who is "good to all" and whose "mercy is over all that he has made" (Psalm 145:8-9)!

• As for Free Will not making any sense, I am a little stunned. I would be more stunned if I hadn't previously thought as Clark does. Now I have come to understand that God is capable of creating the "beach", creating the "water", creating the "boy", and creating inside the boy this ability to act on his own (not without influence, but without sufficient causal determination), providentially sustain this ability, and then permit the boy to use this ability to "go swimming". This doesn't undercut God's omnipotence at all. In fact it affirms that God has the power to create, not just the matter and the law, but a being with freedom. That takes power. And the ability to allow this freedom to be used, while sustaining its very existence, without causally determining its every outcome, takes great skill. There is no logical contradiction between Free Will and divine omnipotence. Free Will doesn't require us to abandon the notion of providential sustenance, or creation, or any other Biblical doctrine that I know of.

I know Clark disagrees with this, but the really stunning thing is that he doesn't even come close to offering any arguments that demonstrate the logical incompatibility of Free Will and divine omnipotence! He just emphatically insists that they are incompatible and moves on.

I was hoping for an argument to analyze.

• On top of an argument, I was hoping for scriptures. So far, Clark has relied heavily on philosophical reasoning in establishing his case. A common reply to non-Calvinist critiques of Calvinist systems of reasoning is that the Bible plainly teaches what is now often called "Calvinism", whether we like it or not. We should not start with philosophy according to most Calvinists, but with scripture. Clark ignored his brethren and chose to start with what he sees to be the philosophical flaws in Free Will. I, personally, am fine with that. I don't happen to find his attempts to philosophically undercut Free Will persuasive, but I am fine with beginning with philosophy.

Even still, I eagerly anticipate Clark's exegetical treatment of a number of passages to which I was never able to find a satisfactory answer as a Calvinist. I am also curious to see if his exegetical treatments of all of the passages commonly used in support of Calvinism will be any different or more persuasive than I found any of the other Calvinists' treatments of them to be.

I am most anxious however, for him to show me the myriad places where the Bible clearly denies free will.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part II

I am in the process of journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved". Right now I am reading through the first section after the forward, entitled "Historical Exposition".

In the margin the reader is promised that POE will be squarely faced, that it will not be dodged, and that where other views disintegrate under POE, Calvinism (as expressed by the Westminster Confession) offers a satisfactory and logical solution. In order to bring the matter into focus, Clark writes that he will catch us up on the historical conversation.

He begins with Lactantius, an early Christian who reported on the popularity of the discussion about POE in the early days of Christianity. But POE was grappled with even before Christianity, and continues to be grappled with by non-Christians; it is not just a problem for believers, but for all theists.

And not only that, but Clark believes that while atheism might dodge the force of certain versions of POE, philosophical determinism remains a possibility and must be reconciled with responsibility. Therefore, he believes that denying the existence of God won't get one out of POE.

Clark believes POE is a problem for everybody, and it is a very old problem that hasn't been solved. Not even by the great Christian philosopher Augustine.

Clark concludes this section with the resolve to do two things:

1. Eschew an attitude of secrecy, boldly facing POE and being honest about its potency.
2. Build a solution to POE on the Biblical foundation of God's omnipotence.

Here are my honest reactions to this as I read:

• I like Clark's attitude. He seems to have a clear understanding of POE's nature and potency. He seems genuinely interested in completely solving it, and he has faith in God's word to be true and helpful. His pledge to take both POE and God's word seriously is refreshing. I am really interested in getting to his actual argument.

• Not a lot of the information in this section was new to me. That's ok though.

• There wasn't a lot to be critical of in this section. His history lesson seems accurate enough.

• One thing I that did come to my mind, is that Clark doesn't mention Epicurus. I wouldn't care, because Clark seems only to be setting up the reader to understand the nature of POE clearly, and to get a feel for the scope of its influence. And he accomplishes those ends.

But I think there is something important in the earliest documented formulation of POE, which is traditionally attributed to Epicurus (341-270 BC). It goes something like this:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
What I think is relevant about Epicurus' formulation of POE, is that second question and answer pair. If God is able to prevent evil, but not willing, then He is malevolent. As you can see, Epicurus considered an attack on God's omnibenevolence a defeater of theism just as fatal as attacks on God's omnipotence and omniscience. And I think he was right to think so; conceding one divine attribute to POE is just as cheap and heretical as conceding another.

We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.

-Conclusion to the Canons of the Council of Orange (529 AD)

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part I

My friend Brandon sent me a copy of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved", and one of his "Predestination". When I was a Calvinist, my weapon of choice was always R. C. Sproul's "Chosen by God", and I gave away a number of copies, including one to Derek, who would later be instrumental in my conversion to non-Calvinism (perhaps giving your non-Calvinist interlocutor a book is the first step toward conversion?).

I have decided to read these books with an open mind, carefully considering their arguments and, like the Bereans with Paul's words, searching the scriptures to see if what they say is true.

Writing helps me process my thoughts, and so I will be journalling here as I read through them.

May the Lord grant me an alacritous heart, a sharp mind, and deeply-running humility.

The forward to "God and Evil: The Problem Solved" is written by John Robbins. Reading it reminded me of some of the things that first attracted me to Reformed Christianity: the love of God's word and abject submission to its every jot and tittle, rigorous Biblical scholarship, logical elegance, solutions to intellectual and social problems, rhetorical eloquence, and tradition/community. I am not saying that all of this can be found in its one and a half pages, but only that the associated sentiments for all of these things came flooding back to me. Thinking about it now reminds me of how painful it was to leave Reformed Christianity.

At any rate, the forward explains the classical formulation of the problem of evil (henceforth "POE"), and two of its solutions (often called "theodicies"): the outright denial of the existence of sin/evil/pain, and the free will defense. Obviously sin/evil/pain exists, and so we can throw that theodicy out.

But what of free will? Robbins explains to the reader that positing free will doesn't help us answer POE either, because it concedes that God is not almighty, thereby allowing POE to undermine Biblical Christianity.

Robbins then goes on to say that "Christianities" that do posit free will like this (such as Arminianism and "Romanism") are actually counterfeits, and are in fact defeated by conceding to POE that God is not almighty.

Next he explains that the reason POE exerts no force upon Biblical Christianity, is that Biblical Christianity denies several of the presuppositions necessary to get POE off the ground. Namely:

1. "Goodness" has any meaning apart from God
2. God is benevolent toward all His creatures
3. God's actions are not by definition just

Here are my honest reactions to this as I read it:

• I wonder what Robbins means by "counterfeit" in this context and what the implications of his statements are.

• I wonder why Robbins thinks that human free will is incompatible with divine sovereignty. Of course I remember why I used to think so, and why I changed my mind, but I wonder whether I missed something in that process. Are there arguments that I haven't yet heard or understood properly? Am I self-deceived about anything?

• Robbins' denial of (1) above resonates with me. It seems fairly obvious that God is the moral lawgiver, and as such, there is no concept of "goodness" apart from His character.

• Robbin's denial of (3) above also resonates with me. Everything God does must be just.

• I wonder why Robbins denies (2), and thinks that God is not benevolent to all His creatures. Does he think that the Bible doesn't ever say God is all-loving, and so it is acceptable to doubt it? Does he think the Bible specifically says that God is not good to all? How might Robbins understand the long list of verses that seem to say that God is benevolent toward all His creatures (I think of Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11, 1 Timothy 2:4-6, 1 John 2:1-2, 1 John 4:8, 2 Peter 3:9, and, perhaps most clearly, Psalm 145:8-9)?

I am looking forward to hearing Gordon Clark out. I am praying that God can open my eyes and my mind and soften my heart, and help me to carefully consider his arguments, and to honestly and plainly study the scriptures that he will teach from.

As a post-script, I would like to include a statement in which I level with myself and any readers who will be following this series. I am under no delusions that I am capable of a truly unbiased reading of these books. Arguments for Calvinism used to be my stock and trade, and then I was convinced that they are all wanting. Again, it is obviously possible that I missed some arguments or failed to understand some arguments properly, or that I am in denial about the force of some arguments that I do understand.

But the bottom line is that I want to highly esteem and aspire to a genuine disposition of openness and careful consideration, but I don't want to falsely claim that I have completely arrived at it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dangers of Young Earth Dogmatism

I am a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Of sorts. I am a Creationist in the sense that I believe in a single all-powerful being who created everything that exists. I also happen to believe that God created humanity by way of a distinct act and not by way of evolutionary mechanisms over millions of years.

I am a Young Earth Creationist, specifically, in the sense that I currently happen to think that the earth is relatively young.

What I am not, is a Young Earth Dogmatist (YED). That is, I do not think faith in the youth of this planet is explicitly taught by the scriptures, crucial to Christianity, or even super important to believe in.

Therefore this post is not contra YEC, but contra YED. I do not oppose a position but a disposition.

There are two dangers in Young Earth Dogmatism.

Firstly, insisting that faith in the youth of this planet is crucial to Biblical Christianity tends to cause unnecessary division, while the Bible stresses a wide degree of latitude for brothers and sisters over matters that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible. Now don't get me wrong, I know that there is room for constructive disagreement among Christians, and that's what I have with my Old Earth brothers and sisters. But Young Earth Dogmatists tend to practically elevate their scientific speculations to the levels of certainty and importance of the gospel itself, and this, like all syncretism, introduces problems.

Secondly, Young Earth Dogmatism repels people from the faith. When individuals are brought up believing that the Bible incontrovertibly teaches that this planet is less than 10,000 years old, and then they encounter extremely compelling scientific evidence to the contrary, they are forced to make a choice that just might be unnecessary. Now, I am aware that there may be things the Bible teaches, which are often construed in secular circles as being at odds with scientific data and/or their interpretations, but faith in the youth of the earth need not be added to this list. Don't make matters worse; pick your battles, and all that.

This is not to mention the people who weren't even raised by Christian parents who are repelled by Young Earth Dogmatism. Sure, there are those who are repelled by genuine Christian dogma. But, again, if this isn't genuine Christian dogma, and it is offensive, why not relegate it to a lower status? The gospel should be stripped of everything that hinders.

The gospel is nudist that way.

So, where is there room for millions and billions of years? Before, during, and after the six days in Genesis 1.


The six days of creation begin pretty early on in the text, right? And what part of "in the beginning" don't I understand? How could there possibly be room for millions and billions of years before the six days of creation?

Incidentally, one of the most widely held theories among Evangelical Christians is something called the "Gap Theory". This theory maintains that there is a gap of time in between the first and second verses of Genesis 1. This theory, in addition to enjoying a wide fan-base, also enjoys grammatical support. James E. Smith, himself an opponent of Gap Theory explains:
The Ruin-Reconstruction theory (also known as the Gap Theory) is perhaps the most widely held view among evangelicals. According to this view verse 1 describes an original perfect creation... Verse 2 is translated, “Now the earth became waste and void.”…

Can Genesis 1:2 be translated “Now the earth became waste and void”? Many authorities insist that the verb hayah cannot be rendered became here. The truth of the matter is that this verb more often than not expresses an action and not a state of being. The Gap Theory cannot be opposed on linguistic grounds. [1]
In addition to the Hebrew verb היה (hayah), which more often means something closer to "became" than "was", there is other immediate grammatical support for reading Gap Theoretic notions into Genesis 1:2. For example, the textual note on Genesis 1:2 in the ESV says:
תֹהוּ (tohu) and בֹּהוּ (bohu), when used in proximity, describe a situation resulting from judgment (Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23).
These three words, read plainly in Hebrew, would lead a reader to believe that sometime after God created the heavens and the earth, God caused the earth to lose its form and contents by way of judgement.

Thus, there are textual reasons to posit a gap of time in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. That's all I need to establish the Biblical room for millions and billions of years before the six days of creation. However, since Gap Theory is interesting, I will tell you what some Gap Theorists think occurred during that gap.

There are several events that the Bible teaches occurred very long ago. I will go through them and then we can figure out how to order them.

In Job 38:1-7, in the middle of God's monologue to Job, God sarcastically asks Job where he was while God was laying the foundation of the earth, "when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy". In order to "shout for joy", the sons of God (a phrase which, in the book of Job, refers to angelic beings) had to have already been in existence.

Now notice how the six day creation account doesn't mention anything about the creation of the angels. Why? Because God had already created them prior. So this is one event that occurred in eternity past that we will have to find a place for on our creation timeline.

Now take a look at Genesis 3:1. This "serpent" that is mentioned in the garden is also called "the devil" or "Satan", and is the deceiver of the world. But long before that, he was a different creature of a different moral standing in a different place. That is, he was a blameless, anointed cherub on the holy mountain of God (Ezekiel 28:12-14). He became proud because of his beauty and persuaded about a third of the other angels in heaven to attempt a mutiny, against which God's army of righteous angels, led by Michael the seraph, fought back, taking the mountain and driving them all out of heaven - and down to earth (Ezekiel 28:15-17, Revelation 12:4-9).

So that's how the serpent came to be corrupt and displaced. And this must have happened at least prior to Genesis 3:1, or else he wouldn't be called "the serpent", wouldn't be outside of the mountain of God, and wouldn't be deceitful.

Genesis is famous for giving an account of the Fall of humanity, but what it fails to record is the Fall of the angelic host who would become known as demons. This Fall, the subsequent heavenly war, and its conclusion are all events that we must find a place for on our cosmic timeline.

So here is one way of drawing up the order of events:

1. In the very beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
2. Sometime either before or after (1) God created Angels.
3. Sometime after (1) and (2), the archangel Lucifer, a cherub, and his followers (about 1/3 of the heavenly host) fell morally, by pridefully attempting to usurp God’s throne. So the archangel Michael, a seraph, and his followers subsequently waged war against them.
4. As a result of (3), Satan and his demons were violently evicted from the mountain of God.
5. Perhaps as a result of (4), the earth then lost its form, contents, light, and firmament. Perhaps the first Fall, that of Lucifer, shook the cosmos, renting its very fabric, and knocking planets out of orbit (think of the cataclysm caused by the crucifixion - imagine a pristine universe being morally torn for the very first time). Or perhaps out of bitterness, Satan and his demons threw a demonic fit, and rioted after being kicked out of heaven (imagine the cosmic riot of those powerful enough to have been God's own lieutenants). Or perhaps as God had them thrown out, His wrath burned against them so intensely that the spheres themselves melted and violently erupted (think of an ancient apocalypse, bringing a chilling symmetry to the Eschaton).
6. Perhaps it was then that the events beginning in Genesis 1:2 began taking place. Perhaps, after the earth became formless and void, it needed re-creation. As R. Jamieson and his colleagues describe it,
the earth was without form and void—or in “confusion and emptiness,” as the words are rendered in Is 34:11. This globe, at some undescribed period, having been convulsed and broken up, was a dark and watery waste for ages perhaps, till out of this chaotic state, the present fabric of the world was made to arise. [2]
And so God spent six days re-creating the earth, feathering a nest for a new type of creature He had designs for; forming the globe into a shape He liked, filling it with fruitful plants and wildlife, lighting it properly, and firming up land masses on its surface. To again quote from Jamieson,
the Spirit of God moved—literally, continued brooding over it, as a fowl does, when hatching eggs. The immediate agency of the Spirit, by working on the dead and discordant elements, combined, arranged, and ripened them into a state adapted for being the scene of a new creation. The account of this new creation properly begins at the end of this second verse; and the details of the process are described in the natural way an onlooker would have done, who beheld the changes that successively took place. [ibid.]
7. Then, after God had finished filliping, He rolled up His sleeves and conducted His opus, creating a spitting image of His Very Self, symbiotically spread across two genders and fully equipped for reproduction.
8. And that's why the serpent was already present on the earth by Genesis 3:1, with the motivation to bring down mankind – the pinnacle of God’s fresh creative achievement; the one creature fashioned after God Himself.

How long before or after the creation of the heavens and the earth did God create the angels? How long did He reign among them in peace before the rebellion? How long did the war last? How long after the rebels were put down did God begin the re-creation of the earth?

With these and other questions unanswered, can it be said that a plain reading of scripture may possibly leave room for millions and billions of years before the six days of creation? At least a plain enough reading that makes enough room that Christian brothers and sisters holding to inerrancy and a straightforward hermeneutic may thus maintain that the earth is older than 10,000 years without being defrocked by Young Earth Dogmatists?


Who has the gaul to suggest that there could be room for millions and billions of years during a six day period (besides Paul Copan, of course)? Moreover, can such a one earnestly claim a "straightforward" or "literal" hermeneutic? I have been surprised by some of my a- or post-millennial friends, whom I love, who seem to have no problem swiftly allegorizing the prophets, Savior's, and apostle's teachings on the Kingdom of God and by many of the same who happen to also be Calvinists, who read Calvinism into verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 John 2:2, but turn right around to force a woodenly literal (in their words "plain") interpretation of passages that, to many, are quite obviously poetic, figurative, or allegorical (think "this is my body", a phrase too rarely compared to others like "I am the door" and "I am the vine", and a post topic for another night).

The Hebrew word יום ("yome", which literally means "to be hot") is not always used for "24 hours as we know them". In fact, the very same verse says that God called the "light" as "day" (and the "darkness" as "night"). Taken literally, this would mean that "day" only referenced the 12 hours or so of light that occur for a stationary observer during a revolution of the globe, unless back then it took the earth 48 hours to revolve, leaving the reader of Genesis to understand that there was a 24 period of light ("day"), and a 24 period of darkness ("night"). Moreover, a single chapter later, the author of Genesis references, in verse 4, this whole creation account as the (sl.) "day" in which God created the heavens and the earth. Obviously, the author can't be using "day" literally in both cases, otherwise he would be saying that God took 144 hours to create everything, and that God took 24 hours to create everything, and this is a mathematical contradiction.

But it's not just this instance in Genesis. In verse 17, God promises Adam and Eve that in the (sl.) "day" they eat of the forbidden fruit, they will surely die. Obviously, we know that they ate the fruit, but didn't die right away. Now, we might interpret God's promise as meaning that they will introduce death into humanity, and will subsequently die. Or we might interpret it as meaning that they will spiritually, and not literally, die. In either case, we can either interpret "day" literally or "die" literally, or both figuratively, but we know that Adam and Even didn't literally die on the same literal day that they ate the fruit, and therefore cannot interpret all words in a woodenly literal sense, like the Young Earth Dogmatists insist we must.

And it's not just in Genesis either. There is case after case of this Hebrew word being used for durations other than singular solar days as we know them.

This isn't a simple issue of reading the Bible plainly or not. Most of us read our Bible in English, which, I hear, is like "kissing your bride through her veil". How can you really know what her lips feel like? How can you expect to correctly pick up all of the nuances so simply? Hermeneutics, even of the most respectably straightforward kind, require the strict examination of context: literary, grammatical, and historical (the Chicago Statement calls this "grammatico-historical exegesis" and says that it requires "taking account of its literary forms and devices"). The goal is to determine what the author literally means. The goal may be exegesis and not eisegesis, but that doesn't mean that the Biblical authors never used figures of speech or idioms or the like, or that the words and phrases in the original will always translate perfectly, clearly, and into literal language.

I once heard John Piper quoted as saying "Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Digging is hard, but you might find Gold.". Sometimes a plain, surface-level reading isn't good enough. Sometimes it takes a little elbow grease and a sturdy shovel.

I've been thinking about all of this for a long time. But one of the reasons I decided to whip out a post now is that my very Best of Man posted a blog with a link to a video featuring Ken Ham himself. There is a lot of good in Answers in Genesis, his Young Earth Creationist ministry, and the video clip has a lot of good stuff in it too. I just have a bone to pick with his disposition.

Anyway, I left a comment summarizing my critique of Young Earth Dogmatism, and one of the objections I received was
If we have to reinterpret the plain meaning of Scripture and we were misled by the plain meaning of Scripture for thousands of years until Darwin came along, then what else have we misunderstood? What other plain teachings of Scripture do we have to reject and come up with a new interpretation for when science comes along and says our interpretation is wrong?"
It was a good point. I thought about it, and then remembered a couple of things. For one, I don't think that the Bible addresses certain things (quantum mechanics, for example). And I think one of the issues it doesn't address, is the exact age of the planet. So, if humans have believed a certain way, incorrectly, for thousands of years, it's to their chagrin. We believed incorrectly about the geocentrism of the universe for thousands of years too. But the Bible doesn't address that, so who cares? I mean, scientific progress is important, but it's not as if people had been reading the Bible geocentrically, and then came to reinterpret it in the face of scientific evidence, right?

Oh wait.

And what about the Jews? Weren't they entrusted with the law, the prophets, and the writings? But didn't they misinterpret them so grossly that they missed their messiah?

It seems it is in fact possible to incorrectly and dogmatically read scripture through our own scientific paradigms to the detriment of the unity of the church, and that it is possible for God's people to misinterpret His word en masse and for long periods of time.

But there's more. It turns out that there is in fact a historical allegorization of the six day creation account, going all the way back to the first century. Most of the Apostolic Fathers held a view called "Chiliasm", which was not only Premillennial, but drawn from the six day creation account. Under this view, each "day" in Genesis was 1,000 years (think of reading 2 Peter 3:8 literally!). The seventh day then corresponded to the future millennial reign of Christ (think of Hebrews 4:1-11 comparing the sabbath to the future "day" or rest). En early expression of this view is summarized for us in a document that was almost canonized:
The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation thus: 'And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.' Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, 'He finished in six days.' This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, 'Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.' Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. 'And He rested on the seventh day.' This meaneth: when His Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.

-The Epistle of Barnabas (circa 100 AD)
Chiliasm gets rarer by the century, but its early existence proves that Christian tradition alone cannot be used to justify a wooden interpretation of "day" in the Genesis creation account.

This is not to mention the various flavors of Theistic Evolution that can be found in vintage Christianity (C. S. Lewis, while he is known for what my good friend Derek von Barandy calls the "the pre-Plantingian argument that (naturalistic) evolution is self-defeating", also accommodates for something close to evolution within the Christian worldview), or in contemporary Christianity (for example, Alister McGrath, The Archbishop of Canterbury, and I understand Biola professors J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig both exhibit something like my position - namely, that there is room within orthodoxy for Theistic Evolution if the scientific evidence leads that way.

The point is that an exegesis of the text alone does not get us conclusive evidence that "day" means "24-hour period" in this case:
Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis...I'm of the view on this that while we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament, nevertheless, if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible-- that is, and old age interpretation; that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is a completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science...

I will tell you that two of the best-known exegetes of the Old Testament in the American evangelical community are Gleason Archer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Walter Kaiser at Gordon Conwell. Walter Kaiser and Gleason Archer are respected in the entire United States as being faithful expositors of the Old Testament. Both of them know eight to ten Old Testament languages, and they both have spent their entire lives in Hebrew exegesis. Both of them believe the days of Genesis are... vast, unspecified periods of time, and are in no way required to be literal twenty-four hour days. view, then, is this: if all of the Old Testament scholars at our seminaries that I trust, that love the Bible and that I respect their credibility were saying that it's required of us to believe these days are twenty-four hour days, I'd have a problem. But if there is enough of these men that I trust--I'm not talking about people that are trying to give up real estate here and are just bellying up; I'm talking about men that the community recognizes to be trustworthy authorities of that Hebrew exegesis are saying that this is an option--then I'm going to say in that case it's permissible.

-Dr. J. P. Moreland, "The Age of the Earth"
In light of this then, is it possible to say that basic conclusions from an honest attempt at reading scripture might leave open the possibility of millions and billions of years, even during the six day creation account?


Even supposing that no time, or little time, elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 (requiring us to do something with the creation of angels, the fall of Satan, the rebellion, the heavenly war, and the eviction of the demons from heaven), and that the Genesis creation account only took 144 hours (plus 24 hours of "rest", whatever "rest" literally means for God...), we still wouldn't know from the Bible how old the earth is. Even if we knew how long it took to create it, we wouldn't necessarily know how long ago that creation took place.

There might be historical or scientific reasons to believe that humans have only been around for so long, or that the creation account itself could have only been so long ago, but these are all historical and scientific issues, as they relate to the Biblical text (like ice-core tests, for example). They are extra-Biblical, and have nothing to do with a plain reading of scripture alone. The Young Earth Dogmatists want to be able to use extra-Biblical material themselves, but as soon as anyone else brings scientific data into the conversation, they talk about the supremacy of the Bible (read: their interpretation of the Bible) to science.

But the Bible itself recommends we consult outside sources! The Psalms say that the heavens declare the glory of God. The Proverbs send the sluggard to observe the ants to learn lessons about productivity. Romans says that God's invisible attributes have been made known through creation, and that this is enough to ground responsibility for belief in God. And the list goes on. In the words of John Calvin,
If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.
All parties involved in the discourse really should be able to use extra-Biblical material in appropriate ways in the discussion. But in doing so, they should avoid elevating their positions to the level of gospel truth.

But are there just Biblical reasons for thinking that the six days of creation only occurred 6,000 years ago or so? Well, a lot of Young Earth Dogmatists, like Kent Hovind ("Dr. Dino") like to line up the genealogies from the Hebrew scriptures to make this case. But the problem with that, is that Hebrew genealogies aren't what we out here in the Western world today think genealogies are supposed to be like. Whole generations are often skipped. The ancient Hebrews just found different things important than we do. A case in point is the genealogy in the beginning of Matthew. It even differs greatly from a straightforward synthesis of the genealogies in the Hebrew scriptures. Now, this isn't a problem for inerrancy, because the authors of these books are trying to communicate something other than what most people in the West use genealogies to communicate. We like clean, comprehensive, factual family trees. The ancient Hebrews were more interested in what it means to be a son of Adam, or Seth, Abraham, or David. Thus, they don't always literally mean "son". Sometimes they mean "grandson" or "heir". Or, in the case of Jesus, being the son of David means being a great+ grandson and the heir to his throne and the one about whom the prophets speak. So lining up genealogies won't tell us exactly how long ago the six days of creation were (for a more rigorous exegetical treatment of the Old Testament genealogies from an Old Earth Creationist's perspective, see

And so, can it be that a plain reading of scripture might possibly also leave room for millions and billions of years after the six days of creation?

You might have objections to all of these things. I do. But that's not the point. The point is that there can be and in fact are, plenty of Christian brothers and sisters, and have been throughout history, who do in fact hold to inerrancy and even something of a straightforward hermeneutic, who also maintain that the "days" in Genesis are not all 24 hour periods and/or that the earth might possibly be older than 10,000 years.

Young Earth Dogma is found nowhere in the Bible or any of the creeds, and need not be ascribed the same certainty or importance as the gospel itself, lest we cause divisions among ourselves and drive people away from the true dogmas of Christianity.


[1] Smith, J. E. (1993). The Pentateuch (2nd ed.) (Ge 1:2). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co.
[2] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Ge 1:2). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.