I was listening to a podcast recently which featured a friendly discussion between two philosophers: W. Paul Franks, a Wesleyan libertarian, and Guilluame Bignon, a compatibilist Calvinist. They talked about several things, and it was a great example of intelligent, civil, and charitable debate between Christians. Bignon even said that if all people get from the podcast is that they can see that a Calvinist like him can be good friends with a libertarian, it would be a success. I think that’s a very mature attitude that is missing from a lot of Christians. I just got his book where he defends Calvinistic determinism, and I hope I can find time soon to read through it.
Nonetheless, here I want to hone in on Bignon’s claim that God’s freedom is a clear counterexample to the libertarian’s argument that one must be able to do otherwise in order to be free (the principle of alternative possibilities, aka PAP) and morally responsible. God is impeccable (he cannot sin), so this principle obviously does not apply to God, Bignon argued. Franks holds to source incompatiblism, which either diminishes or even eliminates the need for PAP, but Bignon still argues that it still doesn’t make sense of God’s freedom.
Over a month ago, there was another school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Stoneman Douglas High School. The more this happens, the more Americans get tired of it, and we should. These are terrible, and solutions need to be discussed that are careful, nuanced, and sober. Unfortunately, that is normally not what happens, as I’ve written about before after mass shootings like this. Usually, discussions turn into political mudslinging contests full of red herrings, strawmen, emotional appeals, and groundless accusations. The mainstream media tends to ramp up controversy only to rile up the right wing media to throw hay-makers back. Politicians do much of the same. Unsurprisingly, precious little gets done despite there being real research on general gun violence and mass shootings. It is not an easy problem to diagnose, so instead of thinking carefully, people jump to their preferred slogans and cry and shout. Even calling for calm is a quick way to become a target of emotional insults because somehow you are not empathetic for trying to tell people to use their reason.
I have stayed away from Donald Trump news for a while since it gets so annoying, but some of it is impossible to avoid. Truth be told, there are some policy decisions that I have liked, such as his Supreme Court choice, the tax plan (mostly), and scaling back on regulations that helped encourage investors. There are also things that are not so great and even predictably stupid, such as the disaster of a healthcare plan, the annoying Russia thing that won’t go away, trade tariffs, and dumb comments from him. But Donald Trump is a weird politician, seemingly impervious to scandals that would crush other politicians. This whole absurd saga with a pornstar that he allegedly had an affair with and paid hush money to is a great example of this. Many of us already cynically think that at least some politicians get involved in shady stuff anyway, but can you imagine if a “normal” politician got hit with a scandal like this? It would be politically disastrous, and yet for Trump, people’s reactions are kind of just like, “Oh yeah, well, there’s Trump for ya.” At the same time, his approval numbers are low despite the economy doing well, which is normally something that correlates with high approval ratings (whether the president actually did anything to truly affect the economy or not). He is some mutant politician; the things that would normally destroy a career don’t affect him that much, and the things that would normally help a politician don’t really assist him.
I have been reading about the horrifying case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics as well as for USA Gymnastics. It is astonishing, sad, and infuriating that he got away with it for decades, ruining so many lives and even leading to the loss of life as a couple of people committed suicide, partially as a result of his crimes. This is a man who already was sentenced to 60 years in prison for having tens of thousands of images of child pornography and videos of him molesting kids. Now, over one hundred victims have come forward to share their stories, making certain that even an elixir that doubled the average human life span would not allow him to ever leave prison.
He is a grotesquely evil man, and in many ways he is more dangerous than other traditional criminals because he is the kind who befriends people and gains their trust before abusing their beloved children. The bitterness and anger that his victims unloaded on him the past few days to go along with the anger of the wider world is richly deserved. Here is a piece of human garbage that one victim aptly called “a spawn of Satan.” A coach who sent over 100 girls to Nassar for treatment, ignorant of what was happening, said to him out of guilt and anger, “Go to hell,” a sentiment that is probably shared by even those people who generally have a problem with the doctrine of hell. If he were put in a room with every father of those girls to beat him in whatever way they chose, that would still be too light a sentence.
And yet, as Christians, we are to believe that if he were to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved and given eternal life. At first glance, such a statement makes even Christians uncomfortable and downright enrages atheists. Sam Harris finds such a belief to be utterly unjust and disgusting. Harris has never made an argument that has impressed me, but I understand his emotional reaction here; it seems deeply unfair. Sure, Jesus saves sinners, but come on: There’s a massive difference between a serial child sex abuser and someone who cheated on a test or has mild anger issues.
My primer on open theism has made me think that it’d be useful to write ones for other theological systems or topics, as I often receive questions about them as well. A good one to do is Calvinism because it is so prevalent, yet many Christians (including a good number of self-proclaimed Calvinists) do not really understand it. Now, this one is a bit more difficult to condense into one article because it is more of a full blown system than open theism, but I think it will help to stick to what can be considered “classical” Calvinism and largely ignore certain varieties such as “four-point” Calvinism (Amyraldism) and libertarian Calvinism. Still, what follows will be heavily simplified, though I think it will still be largely accurate.
As usual, I’ll attempt to give a charitable portrayal of Calvinism despite being a pretty sharp critic of it (as readers of this blog know). I’ll then give a brief critique, though I won’t say much and will just invite the reader to find other articles I’ve written on the topic.
Recently, I was asked by a college student to explain what open theism is, so I might as well make my answer into a blog post.
Open theism does not alarm me nearly as much other Christians who react like it’s some crazy heresy, but I do think it’s in error and I’ll explain why. As always, I’ll aim to give a charitable portrayal of the view, though my explanation and critique will naturally have to be short if I don’t want this post to get too long.
Open Theism: What it is and Who Believes it
In a nutshell, open theism is the belief that the future is at least partly “open” even for God, such that he does not know with 100% detail what is going to happen. This comes from the alleged incompatibility between these two ideas:
- Human beings have libertarian free will.
- God universally knows exactly what every free creature will do.
Libertarianism is the view that we have free will and that it’s ultimately incompatible with determinism. Since open theists hold strongly to libertarianism, they think #2 should be dropped or amended. The reason is that if an omniscient God, who cannot be wrong, knows ahead of time what people will do, then those facts about the future are “settled” and cannot be changed, thereby jeopardizing freedom. Interestingly enough, most Calvinists, seemingly their mortal enemies, agree with them about this incompatibility but instead opt to drop #1, advocating for a theory of free will called compatibilism (free will and determinism are compatible). In any case, examples of Christians who are open theists are pastor/philosopher Greg Boyd, philosopher William Hasker, and the late theologian Clark Pinnock.
As many know, the very controversial Senate race in Alabama is over with the Democrats winning a big victory in an overwhelmingly conservative state. The big reason for this victory, other than the fact that Roy Moore was already pretty unpopular to begin with, was the sexual assault allegations on Moore and the accusations that he went after under-aged girls when he was a young man. Many viewed these accusations as credible, including a lot of conservative Alabamans, which is why there were over 22,000 write-in votes (many of which cheekily voted for Nick Saban). Moore denied these allegations (though he seemed to change his story a couple of times), and his defenders complained that to punish Moore for them was to invert the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Moore was not convicted of anything and likely never will be, so why give an ounce of credibility to the accusations?
I think this line of thinking is mistaken and forgets to evaluate Moore’s situation carefully. Now, I’m the first person to tell people not to overreact to headlines, and I generally think it is deplorable that people jump to conclusions regarding people’s guilt. We’ve seen how doing so can destroy the lives of people who are actually innocent, such as Officer Wilson in the Michael Brown case and the Duke lacrosse players. Still, there is a difference between having enough evidence for a criminal conviction (which should meet a very, very high standard) and enough evidence for rational people to smell that something stinks. The evidence against Moore doesn’t meet the former right now, but I think there is enough to justify people’s reluctance about him and for him to face some consequences, such as losing an election (which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t exactly some hefty punishment).
‘Tis the season for sexual assault/harassment allegations, apparently, as several prominent celebrities have gotten hit with them and eventually saw their careers bite the dust. First there was Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and then others in entertainment and media followed such as Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer. Politicians were not immune, so figures such as Roy Moore (R), Al Franken (D), Trent Franks (D), Blake Farenthold (R), and John Conyers (D) were accused of sexual assault and/or harassment.
On the one hand, it is undoubtedly good that women are willing to speak out against misconduct and that some of these figures, who had gotten away with this behavior for years if not decades, finally saw some consequences for their actions. On the other hand, all of this has given us more evidence of how fractured America is along party lines. Both parties are trying to claim the moral high ground, not because they seem to really care about morals (if they did, they would police themselves a lot better) but because it is politically advantageous to do so while painting the other side as monsters. Consider how some of this played out regarding Roy Moore:
This feels familiar: A blockbuster DC movie comes out to negative critical reviews though positive fan reactions. Like Batman v. Superman, Justice League is not nearly as bad as many critics make it out to be, critics who seem to suffer from groupthink and who keep expecting DC to be like Marvel. Still, while Justice League is coherently written plot-wise, it has frustrating short-comings that again could have been easily avoided like former DCEU mistakes. In fact, what ultimately made this movie just okay was because the DCEU listened too much to whiny critics who wanted bright colors, no tension, and incessant quips like Marvel movies instead of trusting its own darker and mature take on comics. Thus, Justice League is an awkward movie, one that has some of Snyder’s darker tone but also Whedon’s light-heartedness that clashed. It culminated in a last fight that was much like Age of Ultron‘s: CGI minions to destroy, flashy lights, and altogether no tension while fighting a dull bad guy who was way less threatening than he should have been.
Ironically, the fact that Rotten Tomatoes seemed to delay its score for Justice League was actually harmful to the movie. Still, before you feel sorry for Warner Bros., they were ultimately the ones who forced a two hour limit on the movie, forced a Marvel-like humor onto it, and rushed everything instead of more patiently building a world. That is all their fault. And that horrific thing called Suicide Squad is all on them as well. Just threw that in there because that movie was so bad that it defied explanation.
Another terrible mass shooting hit America recently, this time in the small town of Sutherland Springs, TX. Devin Kelley attacked the town’s First Baptist Church on a Sunday morning and shot and killed 26 people, many of them children. He was shot by a local man after the carnage and then fled in a truck, and he was pursued before he eventually crashed and killed himself. The scene at the church was described as horrific, with blood everywhere and dead bodies littered on the floor. The nation once again reacted in anger, sadness, horror, and confusion.
In that anger and confusion, we once again have seen people targeting their political enemies, something that never seems to fail to happen. Many people have called for stricter gun laws, and if you disagree with them, they’ll react in disgust and basically accuse you of being an accomplice in such mass murder sprees. We have to do something, they say, and if you don’t agree with their “something,” you’re automatically a bad person. Others have championed the fact that Kelley was fought off by a citizen with a gun, possibly preventing further shootings elsewhere. Such people argue that those who want strict gun laws are naive control-freaks who want to take away basic rights of self-defense and resistance against potential tyranny.
Such “discussion” gets tiresome pretty fast, especially when a tragedy like this weighs so heavily. While it is understandable that people will get emotional over this (people should get emotional over this), emotion often makes for poor solutions and poor policy. What is needed is sober-minded reason, and in actuality, if people have a firmer grasp on logic, it helps to have more charitable discussion.
Now what I mean by “charitable” does not mean that you can’t dish out firm or harsh criticism. After all, I eviscerated Shaun King for his utterly stupid response to the Las Vegas shooting. Still, I clearly argued why King’s article was built on worthless arguments as opposed to simply attributing all sorts of bad motives to him without evidence. And that’s what’s needed: An evaluation of evidence and argument, not knee-jerk reactions to satisfy anger. Thus, I mean “charity” to be the avoidance of attributing the worst motivations to your opponent (unless you have good reason to) but instead trying to understand what his argument is and answer it. Such evaluation needs some basic understanding of logic.