Calvinism and Philosophers

| | Comments (23) | TrackBacks (1)

Keith DeRose wonders about the resurgence of Calvinism in evangelicalism in the U.S. but the surprising dearth of Calvinists among contemporary analytic philosophers. I've long found this dichotomy a little strange., especially given the strong emphasis on theological determinism in the history of Christian philosophy. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Nicolas Malebranche, G.W. Leibniz, and Jonathan Edwards were all much closer to Calvin and Luther than they were to the dominant libertarian views on freedom of today's Christian philosophers. For all of them, God's sovereign plan includes everything that happens, including the free choices of human beings.

I've always found it a little disturbing that very few Christian philosophers have been willing to tolerate Calvinism. It's almost an orthodoxy among Christian philosophers that libertarianism is true. I myself received a pretty damning condemnation of my denial of libertarian free will from Alvin Plantinga in personal conversation when I was an undergrad, enough that his whole demeanor and desire to continue talking with me changed drastically once I mentioned what my senior thesis was trying to argue. Most of the contributors and commenters at Prosblogion are very easily willing to call Calvinism intolerable, and Keith DeRose has used that exact term with me in online conversations. The main exceptions seem to be the Thomists, who don't accept Calvinism but at least don't treat it as beyond the pale, because they accept Aquinas' more semi-Pelagian streak that comes out in his biblical interpretation rather than his more determinist philosophy that comes out in his natural theology.

Keith quotes Dean Zimmerman, former faculty member at Syracuse where I am doing my Ph.D., to the effect that the main explanation for philosophers' abandonment of Calvinism is largely because philosophers have to deal more closely with nonbelievers in the secular academy, while theologians are more involved with in-house Christian circles due to teaching in seminaries. That means having to respond to the problem of evil, which many contemporary theistic philosophers think Calvinism cannot do adequately. While I think this is the correct explanation, I have two observations that make it seem a little stranger than it might otherwise seem. One is that Calvinism in one sense has a better response to the problem of evil, even if there's a sense in which it does not succeed as well (given a certain widely-accepted premise). The other is that contemporary philosophers have largely rejected libertarian views of freedom, and one might have expected Christians philosophers regularly rubbing shoulders with secular philosophers to be tempted to give the view up.

I've always thought Calvinism had far better resources to respond to the problem of evil on one important level. It's true that one common conception of what justice must require might conflict with what Calvinism teaches (but then we do tend to exaggerate our rights and God's obligations as fallen beings, and Calvinists have long argued that such a conception that labels the Calvinist God unjust relies on a fallen conception of justice and one contrary to what the scriptures teach). But it's also true that Calvinism offers a view of God's sovereignty according to which everything works out in the end in a way that is all according to God's original plan, with no surprise as in open theism and nothing beyond God's control as in any view in the Arminian/Wesleyan tradition.

Jon Kvanvig's recent Prosblogion posts have furthered the argument against open theism on this score, and many Calvinists have tried to make the same claim against any libertarian view (although I admit that such an argument is much harder to make). So while I admit that libertarian views have an easier time responding to one sort of problem of evil (again given a conception of justice that I find foreign to the scriptures), I think it's also true that non-Calvinist responses to the problem of evil accomplish much less than Calvinist philosophers have at least thought they could accomplish with more thoroughgoing views of God's sovereignty.

Another factor that surprises me about the state of contemporary theistic libertarian orthodoxy is that it's pretty much going against the grain of most philosophers today. Hardly anyone is a libertarian. Christian philosophers have held on to this view in the face of its widespread rejection by the majority of our contemporaries. I think that's a testament to these philosophers' willingness to allow philosophical reasoning to take precedence over social pressures. Peer pressure isn't leading to an acceptance of compatibilism. Of course, the same is true about dualism vs. materialism. Most philosophers are materialists. They see dualism as something we've left behind with the idea that whites are morally and intellectually inferior. Theistic philosophers have, by and large, been stalwart defenders of both libertarianism and dualism.

Because of this parallel, I can't say that the general abandonment of libertarianism is a good sign that Christians should abandon it, unless I also want to say the same of dualism, which I don't; I think the arguments against dualism are downright awful, and I don't want philosophers giving in to those weak arguments just because of peer pressure. But given that Christian philosophers are retaining libertarian views for the sake of philosophical respectability, it strikes me as a little funny that this is at the cost of holding a view that is becoming less philosophically respectable among the majority of secular philosophers. This isn't, of course, a reason to reject libertarianism (I think there are such reasons, and I'll be getting to them in due course in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series, although I've presented them before also.) It's just an interesting sociological observation that a compatibilist Christian is going to view very differently from how libertarian Christians might view it.

1 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Calvinism and Philosophers.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Sunday Morning Thoughts from Theology for the Masses on February 18, 2007 11:00 AM

Here are a couple of posts that are worth your time for this Sunday morning: Calvinism and Philosophers by Parableman Jeremy looks at some preliminary issues involving Christian philosophy and how Calvinism might be a better approach to certain pro... Read More



Good post. In keeping with this trend I'm a bit surprised to find you hold this view. I think one of the main reasons is that even though many philosophers are abandoning libertarian freedom, they don't want to. I heard Ravi Zacharias once say he heard Steven Hawkings give a lecture in which he claimed the future is determined, but it doesn't matter because we don't know what it will be. The whole audience moaned.

I bet people are abandoning libertarianism BECAUSE they are atheist and materialist, and on that count have little resources with which to preserve their libertarian intuitions. Christian theism having additional resources to preserve these longed for intuitions is an attractive contrast.

In the NT, I find Paul always trying to find common ground and build from there. These intutive (properly basic beliefs?) in justice or morals, a Creator God, our desires & joy (Lewis) and yes libertarian free will are great starting points from which to show how these beliefs make sense from a Christian Worldview, but must be discarded on a materialist one.

The Calvinist response has no common ground to make sense of people's moral intuitions. In fact, you must first discard the moral intuitions and show how they are wrong. This is not appealing. As John Wesley said, "you will show me by the Scriptures that (Calvinism) is true? What will you prove? That God is worse than the devil. "

I don't see how libertarianism makes less sense on atheistic and materialist grounds. I see no connection whatsoever. I can see how people who think it helps solve the problem of evil would want to retain it, but I don't see any philosophical reason why materialism is at odds with libertarianism (Peter van Inwagen shows that it's not) or how atheism is at odds with libertarianism (Jean-Paul Sartre shows that it's not).

I can't agree with you on Paul. I see nothing even remotely resembling libertarianism in any biblical writer and even some extremely difficult passages for libertarians to work around. I understand that there are Arminian interpretations of most of the Calvinist proof-texts, but most of them seem like wishful thinking to me, and in any case Arminian responses almost invariably never deal with the most telling statements of compatibilism such as Isaiah 10 or Peter's speeches in Acts 2 and 4 (and I think the implicit statement of it in all of God's pronouncements about how history is constantly and fully under his absolute sovereignty amidst his condemnations of people and nations for doing wrong).

I don't see how Calvinism is really against the moral intuitions that we generally assume in our daily life. It's just against some philosophical assumptions that we wrongly think capture our ordinary intuitions. I don't think our ordinary intuitions really are libertarian. We constantly blame people for things when they couldn't have done otherwise. The phenomenon of moral luck shows this, and I think there are reasons to think there are ordinary life reasons to uphold the distinction between compatibilist free will and actions that compatibilists don't consider free.

I'll eventually get to all that in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series, which I can't do much about until I get my computer fixed. I've been almost a week without it (or at least without it except for a window of about six hours on Tuesday), and it was this past week that I had been hoping to get back to that series. I hope Monday will allow me to start looking at the arguments on this issue.


it's so fun to talk with you. You definitely have a better pulse on what's happening in the philosophical world. You may be right. However, it is commonly argued that materialism leads to determinism. J.P Moreland argues this in Body & Soul. Also, the example of Stephen Hawking. In most discussions, the only way out I see presented that delivers materialism from determinism is quantum mechanics. If PVI has done something better, I am unaware. Hopefully, the word will spread. Also, in terms of moral intuitions I'm alluding to moral arguments for God's existence by C.S. Lewis, Bill Craig, and others. These to me have proved very fruitful, but are smashed to pieces within a Calvinistic framework. (I'm sure others will think they're smashed to pieces for other reasons.)

In regards to Paul, I was only referring to the pattern in the Bible of people arguing from some common starting point. For example, when arguing with the Sadduccee's Jesus quotes from the pentateuch, even when better texts are found in the prophets. When with the pharisees, he quotes from a wider range of the OT. Paul, when in the synagogue, preaches Jesus is Messiah from the Old Testament. But when on Mars Hill, no Scripture at all. An appeal to God as creator and provider with a quote from Zeuss. That's all.

However, if you can't see any remotely libertarian texts in the Bible, I don't know what to say. I'm sure if you visit Ben Witherington's blog (I've seen you there.), he'll be happy to help you see them. Personally, I see both held in tension. I feel uncomfortable explaining texts away. (btw, Calvinists do this to.)Therefore, I hold the two in tension like the already/not yet of the kingdom or Christ's dual nature. However, I'm going to lean towards and behave as if libertarianism is true. 1. because it's also intuitive and 2. a Calvinist version of Pascal's wager. If I lean toward libertarianism and I end up being right, great! If I'm wrong, it couldn't have been otherwise and God has ordained it for his glory. Also, great! (By the way, I don't think the Calvinist has any other real response to the question why are philosophers more libertarian than theologians than because God has determined it.) If I can not say to the Potter why are you making me this way (into a libertarian), why should others criticize it? I see the Calvinist texts. If you can't see the other side, I think you have an exegetical issue to deal with.

I think the majority of humanity is against you on the moral intuitions front. How would human culture or society, even ones founded on Judeo-Christian values, handle the following case: a scientist clones a human and uses nanotechnology to program him to go around killing babies, he wants to kill babies and enjoys it for sure, but only because he's programmed to want to kill babies, and is structured so that it could not be otherwise. Most justice systems, if not all, would find the scientist more guilty for the murders than the clone. If the Scientist gets glory for some mysterious good purpose behind this baby killing plan, then why shouldn't the clone be rewarded for his part, rather than punished?

Anyway, this is a fun discussion and I appreciate hearing the minority view from a top-notch philosopher! I very well may have argued against a position you don't espouse. I look forward to seeing your version of compatibilism in the future. The only version I'm familiar with is from the IVP book Predestination and Free Will in which John Frame propounds it.

I don't understand how a materialistic universe with quantum indeterminacy is supposed to be impossible. The van Inwagen view has nothing to do with quantum indeterminacy. He's just a full-blown libertarian. He thinks we have the ability to do otherwise than what we do, and he doesn't credit this to quantum indeterminacy or to some immaterial substance. I'm not sure how something's being immaterial helps explain libertarianism any better anyway. How does that even play a role?

I understand the moral argument for God's existence. I agree with one version of it. I don't see how Calvinism affects it one bit.

I'm happy to hold things in tension that I see in scripture. What I see in scripture is that we have moral responsibility, that we choose things, that we are deliberate in choosing them, and so on. But compatibilists agree with all that, so I don't see how it shows libertarianism. What scripture also seems to me to say is that God can be behind events that are the result of people's choices, choices which God will hold those people responsible for. That position is incompatible with libertarianism. Thus I conclude that the biblical authors were compatibilists. What I don't see a need to do is hold libertarian free will in tension with God's absolute sovereignty, because I see only the latter in scripture.

I'm very familiar with Arminian/Wesleyan arguments for libertarian positions, but I just don't see how the texts in question lead to that view. For example, John 3:16 makes it clear that the people who will be saved are the ones who believe. It doesn't say that God doesn't ordain which people will believe. Compatibilists believe that human choices to believe are ultimately a result of the work of the Holy Spirit, but they are still beliefs, and whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life. Every instance of a passage that's supposed to establish a libertarian conception of freedom has seemed to me to be like this, except for the supposed proof-texts for open theism, which would be another matter entirely and something Arminians and Wesleyans would be on the Calvinists' side on.

Compatibilists disagree on the evil scientist case you present. Some bite the bullet and think the person is free, but others try to distinguish that case from one where the progression toward the person's being a certain way is more natural. I take the latter view. It involves artificially transforming someone's desires instantaneously without a progression toward their later state that the person can conceive of in terms of reasons and internally understood motivations. I don't think the best compatibilist theories would count that as genuinely free.

I don't think the Calvinist has any other real response to the question why are philosophers more libertarian than theologians than because God has determined it.

This confuses two different levels of explanation. It's like saying that the only explanation for why your heart beats can be captured only in terms of fundamental particles in physics and can't refer to things like blood, organs, or oxygen. It also confuses final causes with efficient causes or assumes that only the most fundamental final cause (God's) is the only final cause (meaning I have no purpose for what I do). Genesis 50 denies this, and Isaiah 10 makes the same point from a different perspective.

As with so many things, I think that the reasons why people often avoid Calvinism are part psychological and part ignorance.

Think about it. Every movie we watch, from 007 movies to Flash Gordon... to t.v. shows to literature... its all about saving the world or the Universe. Its in our blood. What kind of a person would write a novel, where the protagonist only tried to save part of the world, when in fact he or she could have saved the whole world?

Likewise the story we are brought up with since we are babes in Christ is that of an incarnate God who loved the whole world - meaning every single human being whoever was, is and will be, and a God who died for the whole world, and who wants the whole world to repent, etc.

However along comes the Calvinist ... and tells us a different story:

"Well God does love the world, but not quite in the way that you conceived of it. He some some in different ways than others - i.e. the electing love."

"Well... He didnt quite die for everyone in the whole world... He died only for some... the atonement is limited."

... and then there is also ...

A picture given of a God who chooses to save some, but not others. He passes over the vast majority of humanity. This particular thought, many find to be quite repulsive.

The overall picture picture that develops is of a God who is unloving. "If He chooses Bob and passes over Rob, then maybe He does not love Rob, and as such is not all loving. But this runs contrary to what I have been raised up believing all of my life... and I love both of them. Am I more loving than God?"

The thoughts can multiply:
If God can pass over people, is He a caring God? or is He an unemotional impassive dud? Will He pass over my family or my children? He has so far called me, but what of the rest of my family? These are gut wrenching things to ponder. And of course the evil in the world, perhaps He just passes over it also. In fact why even go there if you cant resolve why He passed over your brother and not you?

I struggled with all this stuff once. I really did feel like the God of Calvinism was a heartless God.

I however hold to Calvinism now... it took me some years of wrestling with the matter. Learning from the arrogant 5 star Calvinists on the net didnt help the matter. It only pushed me further away from Calvinism.


I think that one another reason why people - philosophers - hold to Liberarianism is because people are uninformed as to what it really is. They do not differentiate between double and single predestination, and assume that Calvinists only teach double predestination. Nor do they understand what monergism is and what synergism is. Monergism has to do with the point of regeneration, while synergism has to do with the life thereafter... with the God who acts to will and move within you.

One more reason - On a lay level, no one has heard of the Liberty of Spontaneity (Holistic Freedom - the term that I am dabbling with). They have heard of Indifference, but not the former.

God Bless and I better get back to my greek... btw, did you study classical or koine?

"for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." ~Phil 2v.13

P.S. Did you know that Jonathan Edwards once found the Reformed doctrine of Predestination to be an abominable doctrine?

Raj, I think some of the things you mention in the psychological reasons are actually misunderstandings of Calvinism. Some of them are misunderstandings that Calvinists perpetuate (e.g. that limited atonement means there's no sense in which Jesus died for everyone, that God's electing love means that there's no sense in which God loved everyone, that allowing evil means allowing the world to be worse off, and so on).

As for double predestination, I'm not sure which doctrine you mean by that. There's a heretical view called that, which the Calvinists of old all denied. That view takes God's predestining the damned to damnation to occur in exactly the same way as predestination of the elect to salvation. [Romans 9 actually uses the middle voice for one of them and either active or passive (I don't remember which offhand) for the other, which indicates to me that this view conflicts with Romans 9.] There's also the logical implication of single predestination, which is that God also predestines the unelect to damnation as a logical implication of predestining only the elect to salvation. Denying that amounts to denying Calvinism. Both of those views might be called double predestination, and one is not Calvinism but the other is and must be held if Calvinism is true.

I studied classical Greek. We did Plato's Apology and Symposium. In between, we did do the prologue to the Gospel of John, so I did do some NT Greek, but that was sort of just for a fun way to end the semester when we had already finished the main work we had translated that semester.

Without arguing about what is true just at the moment, I would like to offer another theory of why Calvinism is dominant in the academic discipline of theology, while Arminianism is dominant in philosophy. Certainly it is true that there some people change their views on these things in study: some people read Romans and become Calvinists, some people read Hebrews and become Arminians (though I personally don't see how Romans 9 is any easier on perseverance of the saints than Hebrews is), and some people deal with the problem of evil and become Arminians. I think, however, that it is probably more common for people to retain the views they started with. So why should more Calvinists go into theology, and more Arminians into philosophy? I think that it has to do with cultural elements in different denominations. I haven't done a systematic survey or anything, but it seems to me that the Presbyterian Church strongly encourages intellectual pursuits, and especially the study of theology, whereas many other Protestant churches (e.g. Baptists, Calvary Chapel) rarely encourage such things, and in some cases even discourage them. It seems to me that the Presbyterian Church is the most encouraging toward theology. I think that this is the reason that there have been more great Presbyterian theologians than, for instance, Baptist theologians in the last few hundred years. I don't think it's because Presbyterian doctrine is more reasonable or more Scriptural (on many issues it is, but I think there are some - paedobaptism by sprinkling, for instance - on which it clearly is not). On the other hand, it seems that the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion are the two that most encourage people to study philosophy, so we've got a lot of Catholic and Anglican philosophers. This, I take it, is also the explanation of why there are a lot of Christian philosophers who still make certain Aristotelian assumptions (some parts of Catholic dogma are not even coherent, much less compelling, if one doesn't make certain Aristotelian assumptions).

I would be very interested in knowing whether this lines up with anyone else's experience, and whether there have ever been relevant statistics (e.g. on the denominational affiliation of philosophers before they began studying philosophy vs. 10 years after they finished their Ph.D.s or something).

Maybe, but I think Reformed circles are especially strong in the move to get evangelicals back into the secular academy, going back primarily to Francis Schaeffer, who was very much a Calvinist. I do think Catholics and Anglicans are more encouraging of philosophy, and I think that does explain a higher percentage of Christian philosophers from those circles. I'm not sure about Arminian/Wesleyan circles, though, because the ones I came from were just downright anti-intellectual.

Well, most Anglicans are not Calvinists, and most people use Arminian to mean "non-Calvinist Protestant" so the Anglicans can be called Arminians in that sense. If you mean Wesleyan than I agree with you that many such churches are anti-intellectual. The question, I guess, is whether the philosophers who believe in libertarian free will are actually real Arminian/Wesleyans or just non-Calvinists. I don't know the answer to that question.

I don't think it is that simple. I would have a hard time calling Plantinga a non-Calvinist, for example. He attends a Calvinist denomination and affirms the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism - he calls these two "essential to Calvinism" (see his spiritual biography - he regards the Canons of Dordt as the result of a "internecine quarrel among Calvinists", not between Calvinists and non-Calvinsts (actually, that probably answers what you were saying about Arminians and Anglicans, too)).

In any case, I think it is wrong to divide Calvinist from non-Calvinist philosophers based solely on their stance on free will.

All the famous Anglicans I know of are Calvinists (e.g. John Stott and most of the Australian biblical scholars like Peter O'Brien) or liberals whose theology is mostly focused on other issues. Most of the Anglicans I know personally are either philosophers or Calvinists.

I'm not sure how we're supposed to be using the terms 'Wesleyan' and 'Arminian'. See my post on that. It seems to me as if the conclusion to that conversation was that people who are not Calvinists who want to avoid the extremes of Arminianism will call themselves Wesleyan and not Arminian, but Calvinists will treat someone as an Arminian for denying any of the five points (or at least any of the five points excepting limited atonement; some who call themselves four-pointers are not treated as Arminians). But is there some middle ground between Wesleyanism and Calvinism? I'm not sure there is. Roman Catholicism might be a third category, although it's further than Arminianism in one respect while being closer to Calvinism in another (e.g. Eleonore Stump follows Aquinas-as-she-interprets-him in denying one key element of libertarianism and yet insists on someting verging on semi-Pelagianism for salvation).

But is there a Protestant view between Wesleyanism and Calvinism? I would have thought that a denial of a majority of the five points is simply a move to Wesleyanism, and holding to libertarian free will seems to constitute exactly that. I would have an extremely hard time seeing Plantinga as a Calvinist in any sense. He certainly goes to Calvinist churches, but he denies the central tenets of what is called Calvinism. Perhaps you could say that he's well within the Reformed traditions on other matters, but the word 'Calvinism' does not mean that. It means holding to the five points (or perhaps to four of them). He doesn't hold to any of them except perhaps a watered down version of T and perhaps also P. I know he denies U, L, and I. (Well, I don't think he's a universalist, so I don't think he denies L, but I bet he thinks he denies L.) I could say that Plantinga is Calvinian in many ways. I could not say that he is a Calvinist. The latter term has a technical meaning in theology, and he does not fit the definition.

Hi Jeremy,
Nice discussion. I was wondering what you held with regard to God's free choices. Do you think God's choices are determined?

If so, then by what? If they're not determined by anything, then are they brute? (Or are they determined by God's desires/beliefs, and those are brute?)

If not, then it is possible that a person make a free choice and the choice not be determined. If so, then this goes against some compatibilist arguments that free will as libertarians conceive it is incoherent. Would you agree to that?

Also, I'm interested in your Plantinga story. I was surprised that his "desire to continue talking with [you] changed drastically" once he found out what you wanted to argue. I would think he would've been more open to, as you say, a position that's been held by many Christians in the past.

I don't know what I think about that. I'm open to God's choices being metaphysically but not logically necessary and then by a compatibilist account God is still free. I'm open to the problems of agent causation being solvable with an atemporal agent where an infinite regress of causes may not be a problem (or perhaps may not occur the way it would with temporal creatures), since there's no beginning and no succession in time.

I got a chance to talk to Plantinga alone after a talk of his. I was hoping to get him to look at some of my work, but that was an unrealistic goal knowing what I now know about the academic world and departmental speakers. I told him I was a Christian, and he responded "So am I!" as if I wouldn't have known that. I told him I was writing a thesis on free will, and he sounded interested. When I said I was arguing against free will (of the libertarian sort), he said pretty dismissively, "Well, you have to believe in free will" and didn't really allow me to present what I wanted about the main goal of my thesis. He used the next available opportunity to get out of the conversation, which arrived soon enough that we didn't really get beyond that point. My suspicion is that if I'd been doing some other topic that he disagreed with me on, it might have gone differently. When he came to Syracuse after I was in graduate school, I don't think he recognized me, but I didn't try to talk to him personally either, so I don't know.

As an Anglican who is neither a philosopher nor a Calvinist, I would like to comment on double predestination. Jeremy points out that Calvinists dismissed as heretical the view that "takes God's predestining the damned to damnation to occur in exactly the same way as predestination of the elect to salvation". But he also points out that "God also predestines the unelect to damnation as a logical implication of predestining only the elect to salvation". But in that case surely God is doing both in exactly the same way. He knows the logical implications of what he is doing, so he cannot get away with any claim that damnation is simply an accidental or unintended side-effect of his decisions. If something bad happens as a logical implication of a person's actions and it can be demonstrated that they knew this logical implication, they cannot avoid moral or legal responsibility for the bad results. Calvinism logically implies the morally repulsive doctrine that God predestines to damnation, and so I can never be a Calvinist.

I was recently skimming the book "Providence and Prayer" by Terrance Tiessen (InterVarsity, 2000). I wish I had had the chance to study it properly. In this book Tiessen describes several distinct views on these issues which are in general terms on the libertarian side of Calvinism: semi-Deist, process, openness, Church dominion, redemptive intervention, Molinist, Thomist, Barthian. So it seems to me unfair to suggest that there is just one Arminian view and this is the only libertarian alternative to Calvinism.

Peter, the distinction I have in mind is between the following two things:

1. The logical priorities in God's ultimate plan include damnation and salvation on the same level.
2. The logical priorities in God's ultimate plan include damnation and salvation, but salvation is logically prior in God's mind.

The Calvinists of the period after Calvin rejected the first view as heretical. They accepted the second view. Of course non-Calvinists aren't going to accept the second view either, but that's not my point. I was simply trying to make a distinction between two different things that are both called double predestination and to point out that you can't have single predestination without the second of them but that it doesn't imply the first. I'm not here trying to argue for or defend the second. That would involve a detailed discussion of God's justice and mercy, which I won't do here.

As for the variety of views among libertarians, I'm not trying to suggest that there isn't variation there. But the Wesleyan/Arminian sort of view is simply the libertarian view. If someone wants to explain the variety of ways someone can be a libertarian, then fine. But why does that make it any less the view that Wesley and Arminius articulated in contrast to the theological determinist view of the earlier Reformers? It's the same view, with lots of variations of how it can be developed.

Barth isn't in this category, if I understand him correctly. He's a Calvinist on free will, isn't he? He just thinks everyone will be saved, right? So he denies limited atonement. But that's not a libertarian view. I've already explained why I don't think the Thomistic view is libertarian. Molinism is a brand of Wesleyan/Arminian thought. Semi-Deism, process, openness, and Barthianism seem to me to count as not quite orthodox, so they're not in the discussion. I see this as a debate within historically orthodox positions. I'm not sure what Church dominion and redemptive intervention are.

Hi Jeremy,

What's the short answer to the question of why, if significant freedom is compatible with divine determinism, God didn't determine a world with far less evil and suffering? Is this world really the best possible world God could have determined?


The short answer? Because it was better not to, because it would have violated God's moral obligations in some other way, or because the right moral character in some way led God to do that.

Now if you want the long answer, you're going to need a lot more than I can write in a comment. I've tried to deal with this somewhat in the problem of evil section of my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series, which I've linked to above. I'm not going to try to repeat all those arguments here.

I'll check out the link. Thanks.

Jeremy asked "If someone wants to explain the variety of ways someone can be a libertarian, then fine. But why does that make it any less the view that Wesley and Arminius articulated in contrast to the theological determinist view of the earlier Reformers?

Well, I don't know whether Wesley and Arminius articulated exactly the same view, or two subtly different ones. But my point is simple. There are, as you accept, a variety of ways in which someone can be a libertarian, a variety of views here. Only one or at most two of these views can be the same view that Wesley and Arminius articulated. The other views are different views, if only subtly so. They may be in some ways closer to Arminianism than to Calvinism, but there are also some significant differences between them, as explained in Tiessen's book.

I'm sorry, but you seem to be using the classic debating and political trick of dismissing anyone who differs from you by wrongly identifying their views with something you have already dismissed. I would have expected better of a philosopher.

Now Tiessen does I think make a basic division in his book between libertarian and predestinarian views (terminology from memory). And that is reasonable. But he avoids the mistakes of broadening the use of a label to cover a range of views and of dismissing differences between different views.

Meanwhile, I'm still not sure what it means to say that one thing is "logically prior in God's mind" to another when, as is clear even to humans and so much more so to God, the two things logically imply one another - unless of course you take the Barthian version of this that God has predestined all to salvation and none to damnation.

Peter, I haven't dismissed any view, so how have I "[dismissed] anyone who differs from [me] by wrongly identifying their views with something [I] have already dismissed". I'm simply distinguishing between views that involve some kind of divine determinism (articulated by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards) and views that involve some kind of libertarianism (articulated by Jacob Arminius, John Wesley, and most contemporary theistic philosophers).

I have fully acknowledged that there are variations within both those general categories, and I've recognized some cases that don't clearly fit either category, but that doesn't make the general categorization bad or useless. In fact, it seems to get at a fundamental difference that's extremely important, and most views fit one of the two. You now admit that Tiessen does the same thing I have done in making this basic division and even called it reasonable. Your only objection, as far as I can tell, is that I have referred to libertarian views as the general sort of view that Wesley and Arminius held to. I can't for the life of me see what's supposed to be problematic about making such am obviously true claim.

Show me anywhere in the above discussion where I have relied on lumping these views into one category when the differences between them would at all matter. Since I haven't really been arguing against any of them, I have trouble seeing how I could possibly have done anything of the sort.

As for the substantive issue, I think you're misunderstanding the distinction. Supralapsarians and infralapsarians disagree on the logical order of divine decrees. Ultimately, the final goals are driving everything, but the reasoning to those final goals differs for different Calvinists. In God's reasoning for why the ultimate providential plan would include a fall, is the decree to elect some logically prior to the decree that there will be a fall or logically subsequent? The former view is supralapsarian, and the latter is infralapsarian. It's not about what logically implies what but is about which elements are first in the logical order of reasoning as God would have worked out his plan from eternity. I suggest Rebecca Stark's series at Theologica on these issues, particularly her first two introductory posts, although the rest of the series is helpful, moving through the order of decrees for various theological positions, including universalism, the general Arminian/Wesleyan kind of view, Amyraldianism, Infralapsarianism, and Supralapsarianism.

Now the issue I had in mind is a debate within supralapsarianism (and doesn't arise for infralapsarianism, my preferred view). Those who hold to a decree to elect before there's even a decree to a fall might think God decreed some particular people to election and others to damnation before decreeing a moral justification for why anyone would be damned or what anyone would be saved from. On the other hand, it might just be a decree that some be saved and others damned in general, without selecting particular people until there is at least a basis for why anyone might be saved or damned.

So within supralapsarianism there is the first view, which the Reformers of old called double predestination and declared heretical, and the second view, which does not have God damning particular people with no basis at all other than that it would be good for some in general to be damned. Almost all Calvinists hold that view to be heretical. No one in this debate denies that there is eventually the logical implication that some will be damned. The debate is over which reasons are logical prior in God's reasoning.

As I said before, those who think that you can be a Calvinist and not accept double predestination in the more obvious sense of the term (rather than the classic sense of the term that I've been explained) are simply wrong. Calvinism entails that God has decreed in some sense that the non-elect will be damned. Keith DeRose has now written a second post shooting down this sort of single-predestination view. But my understanding of the classic Reformation-era debates over double and single predestination is that all Calvinists accepted that point and were simply debating this other issue.

While I understand the historical reasons for taking people like Aquinas, Augustine and Edwards as representative starting points in the discussion, it should be brought out that such persons are not on the radar of a large portion of Christians, namely those of the East.

Consequently names like Greagory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, Photios and Gregory Palamas don't appear in the discussion, even though they have a good amount to say on free will and from a libertarian perspective. Historically and theologically the place to look on the relationship and nature of the divine and human wills is in the Christological controversies, specifically in the 6/7th centuries of the Monothelite controversy.

For Easterners, they begin with a paradigm case of Christ and then subsume everyone else under the conclusions reached there, whereas for the Latin's it tends to be somewhat the opposite, start with general anthropological notions and then subsume Christ and everyone else under them.

For the East carrying through the monergism and divine determinism of Calvinism to Christology implies monothelitism or at least a speacies of it.

Perry, it's ironic on one level that you would make this charge, given that Calvin in his own time was accused of Nestorianism, which is the opposite heresy.

The problem with your argument is that Calvinism is generally compatibilist, with hard determinist views generally counting as hyper-Calvinist. A compatibilist considers different wills at different levels of explanation to be perfectly compatible. Therefore, my free will is compatible with my being predetermined by God's will. Similarly, Christ's divine will just is the Father's will, and his human will is predetermined by the Father's will to be fully submitted to the Father's will while also being his own human will in the same way that my will is a fully human and fully free will that's predetermined by the Father's will. So there's no proper inference from Calvinism to monothelitism.

Jeremy, thank you so much!!!! It is encouraging to a young philosopher to know there are other Calvinists in the field!!!!

Leave a comment


    The Parablemen are: , , and .



Books I'm Reading

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently

Books I've Been Referring To

I've Been Listening To

Games I've Been Playing

Other Stuff


    thinking blogger
    thinking blogger

    Dr. Seuss Pro

    Search or read the Bible

    Example: John 1 or love one another (ESV)

  • Link Policy
Powered by Movable Type 5.04