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.