Philosophy: February 2007 Archives

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.

Gnu at Wildebeest's Wardrobe reflects on the relationship between philosophy and faith in the scriptures in Philosophy and Canon.

I don't agree with his take on Ecclesiastes, because I see the positive elements throughout the book and the narrator simply framing it and putting it all in perspective, without there being anything really false about the statements of Solomon within the main text.

I'd also change his (3) to "The OT explains how authentic divine predestination is compatible with authentic moral responsibility." That's what it doesn't do. I think it does implicitly affirm that the two are compatible by affirming them both, even in the same breath in some instances (e.g. in Isaiah 10).

But those are minor quibbles. His overall point is worth considering, particularly the way that an intelligent reading of the Bible leads to seeing the Christian's approach to the scriptures as challenging the views of the reader in the same kind of thoughtful way that philosophy at its best will do.

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