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.