A TULIP by any other name …

… would it smell just as unattractive? (Apologies to Shakespeare – some of us Essex people have heard of him, even if we don’t win Big Brother.)

I couldn’t resist this title, so I decided to use it as an excuse to comment on the discussions on five-point or TULIP Calvinism which are going on at Ancient Hebrew Poetry (completely off topic for that blog, so don’t be scared to read this if you don’t know any Hebrew), at Metacatholic, and in a long comment thread on this very blog.

I must say I find five-point Calvinism, the kind summarised in the acronym TULIP, to have an extremely unattractive “scent” reminding me of death, at least in the way it is usually presented. This smell seems to attach to both the doctrine and to many of its supporters. John Hobbins seems to agree, for he finds among the supporters

rabidness of expression, lack of charity … a loss of focus … theological cranks who have never absorbed the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13.

No doubt some of these TULIPs would quote Paul in response to my Shakespeare allusion:

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (TNIV)

That is, they would hint that if I find their TULIP teaching, which to them is the heart of the gospel, to have the smell of death, that is evidence that I am perishing. But then on their theology I can’t do anything about that, so I might as well ignore it. For these are the people who teach that God decided, irrevocably and before the foundation of the world, that certain people would be saved, and that others have no chance of salvation because they are so completely depraved that they cannot even take the smallest step towards God. This, as far as I can tell, is pretty much the standard Calvinist teaching which is promoted by many of my blogging friends, especially those in the Reformed camp.

So it comes as a surprise to me that both John Hobbins and Jeremy Pierce can take separate very different positions and yet still claim to be TULIP Calvinists.

John’s position is the simpler one to understand. He qualifies “limited atonement” as

a reality faced today. The consequences of sin are still born in part by sin’s perpetrators and victims. The time is coming, and is almost here, when the Lamb’s victory over sin will be universal.

Having said this is easy to understand, I realise that he can mean one of two things. One is that in our generation almost everyone is elect and so will be saved, and soon, i.e. among future generations, this will become everyone. But more likely what he means is that everyone in all generations is elect and so will be saved; so far not all have been, but very soon they will be. (How soon do you mean by “The time … is almost here”, John? A lady in my church is expecting the rapture before the end of this month. Are you with her, or is your understanding based on “a thousand years are like a day”?)

If John’s position is the latter, this makes him a universalist, a believer that all people will be saved. Well, at least he has found the only logical way to believe in election but not double predestination. But he then has to face questions like, will Judas, Nero, Hitler and Stalin really be saved? Any teaching that they will be smells only a little more pleasant, especially to their victims, than the variety of TULIP I described above.

Jeremy’s position, as befits his philosophical training, is philosophically deeper. He holds to “compatibilism”, which, if I have understood it correctly, is in simple terms (perhaps over-simplified, I’m sure Jeremy will correct me if they are) that there are two complementary but compatible ways of looking at spiritual reality: in one of these, God decides who will be saved, and in the other, each person decides for themselves. Jeremy has explicitly denied that one of these views is more fundamental than the other. So he does not take the position that people cannot decide for themselves to turn to God and be saved; rather, he holds that while this is in one sense their real and free decision, in another sense it is predetermined by God. That is correct, isn’t it, Jeremy?

Now I accept that, when properly described and qualified, this is a coherent position, and indeed it is probably the best way to understand and reconcile the various strands of biblical teaching on these issues. I stop short of a full endorsement of compatibilism because this seems a little bit too close to the proud reason I have condemned.

In a comment at Metacatholic I suggested, slightly tongue in cheek, that “in one sense [Jeremy] is a TULIP Calvinist, and in another sense he is not.” But he denied this, claiming that his position is historical five-point Calvinism, and that the TULIP position as I described it earlier in this post is a distortion, hyper-Calvinism. Well, it doesn’t seem to be hyper-Calvinism as described by Wikipedia to hold that most people are not elect and so completely depraved that they have no chance of salvation. Indeed, this is the classic Calvinist understanding of total depravity, as also described by Wikipedia. What is hyper-Calvinism is to use this teaching as an excuse not to call to repentance and faith people who are not thought to be elect – an error because no human knows who the elect are.

It still seems to me that Jeremy holds that it is possible to be both a TULIP Calvinist and an Arminian (in the simplistic sense of believing that people decide for themselves whether to be saved) because these teachings are in some philosophical sense compatible, and so he takes this position. This TULIP has another name as well, and to me it has a sweet fragrance.

47 thoughts on “A TULIP by any other name …

  1. As I read this I wondered if our recent tangle about Cyber-Psalm 7 is also related to TULIPism. Faced by the apparent damnation of billions over centuries of history one can either chalk it up to election and the whim of a despotic deity or take refuge in a desperate hope in universalism.

  2. Wow, Lingamish, that was quick for such a profound response.

    Well, I find a third route here, neither the majority damnation of historic TULIPism, nor the universalistic TULIPism apparently of John Hobbins which has even unrepentant despots saved against their will. I see the picture in 2 Peter 3:8-9 of God waiting desperately, for millennia, for people to come to repentance and faith – but allowing them, as he allowed Adam and Eve, to make, if they want, wrong choices leading to their destruction. As for “the apparent damnation of billions”, I suspect that we will find many more people in heaven, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Oh dear, I can’t stop myself quoting Shakespeare today!) But the blood of those who are damned should be on our human heads, not God’s, for failing to present them with the gospel properly – or it would be if Christ had not atoned for this blood with his own.

  3. You are, of course, over-reading my universalism. According the book of Revelation, the Lamb’s victory over sin is right around the corner, and we are to pray that it will come, and speedily. That victory will be effected by separating the wheat from the chaff as it were, with very specific categories of people singled out for consignment to the lake of fire (21:8).

    Christians in general, not just TULIPs, have often taken that to mean that the majority of people are destined for the second death. But this is not what the book of Revelation itself teaches.

    On the contrary, the vast majority of people fall into a third category. They are described, after death itself is thrown into the fire (20:13) and the radiant glory of God and the Lamb replace the sun and moon as sources of light (21:23), as “the nations” who “will come to its light,” the “kings” who “will bring it their treasures.” The gates will never be shut, says scripture (21:24), do I need to repeat it? The gates will never be shut, “and the leaves of the tree” growing around the river of life will be “for the healing of the nations” (22:2). And the Lamb’s servants will “reign forever and ever,” presumably over the nations who will be healed by the leaves of the tree of life.

    The Book of Revelation does not back up what has passed for orthodoxy among Christians for most of the church’s history. But it does not back up those who wish to affirm that all will be saved either.

  4. Thanks, John, for the clarification. Yes, indeed, Revelation 21:8 shows us that not all will be saved. But there is no reason to think that those who end up in the lake of fire will be the large majority, and in fact some good reasons to think otherwise.

    However, I don’t see clear support for your apparent suggestion that there will be two separate classes of those who are not in the lake of fire, i.e. many in the nations and a few servants of the Lamb who will reign over them. Instead I see these two groups as one and the same, at least in the long term. The nations will come to the city, and that will be their home, but they will also be free to come and go. Anyway this is all some kind of picture language, not to be taken too literally I would think.

    So not before the end of the month, you think?

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  6. I think there’s clear support for a “two separate classes” understanding, but I also agree that the two groups are to become one and the same, in the long term.

    In Revelation 20 as well, there are two separate classes. Once again, there are the nations (no longer deceived, because Satan is temporarily put out of commission), and the saints who with Christ are to reign.

    There is a pattern here.

    As for chronology, “it is not for you to know,” said someone I try to pay attention to. I do know we’re supposed to expect that day to dawn at any time, and the sooner, the better.

  7. So he does not take the position that people cannot decide for themselves to turn to God and be saved

    I do hold that we cannot decide to be saved for ourselves if you take that to mean it’s under our own power and without divine grace. It’s just that God’s grace works in such a way that our choices are real. By God’s grace, we can make real choices to seek and serve God. But we cannot do so without God’s grace, and sometimes that’s what people mean when they say that we are deciding for ourselves.

    Well, it doesn’t seem to be hyper-Calvinism as described by Wikipedia to hold that most people are not elect and so completely depraved that they have no chance of salvation. Indeed, this is the classic Calvinist understanding of total depravity, as also described by Wikipedia.

    I see nothing about whether most people are elect or unelect. The key issue is whether the unelect have a moral responsibility to repent and whether the elect have a responsibility to preach the gospel to them. Hyper-Calvinists deny human responsibility and thus do not think evangelism makes sense to people who have no duty to repent. They do not have room for any possibility of repentance among the non-elect, because they aren’t compatibilists. As the hyper-Calvinism section of the Calvinism entry says, they denied the call of the gospel to every person and only applied it to the elect. This is the very limited atonement view that you are claiming is standard Calvinism. But according to Wikipedia, it is the heart of hyper-Calvinism and something Calvinists have historically rejected.

    The issue of what percentage of people are elect is simply unrelated to Calvinism vs. hyper-Calvinism. A Calvinist or hyper-Calvinist could believe either. I think the main difference is between (1) premillenialists and amillenialists, who tend to think the church will be a minority and become increasingly so at the end and (2) postmillenialists, who think the church will increase to become dominant on earth at the end. You’ll find Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists of both stripes, although I suspect most hyper-Calvinists are dispensationalists and thus in the first category. But I don’t see how that view should really be part of this discussion.

    But the other half of your definition “are not elect and so completely depraved that they have no chance of salvation” is ambiguous. One way to take that statement is the traditional reading of total depravity, that without God’s gracious work of regeneration no one can be saved. The other way to take it is that there’s no possibility that they be saved, period, which implies that God could not have saved the person, because somehow God couldn’t have elected the person. This is a denial of the standard Calvinist view. But if you accept the standard Calvinist view, then you can accept conditions under which the person would repent, and thus the person could have chosen to repent and follow Christ. It just would have taken a work of God to regenerate the person first.

    So once you accept standard Calvinism, it follows that there is a possibility that anyone be saved. From God’s point of view, knowing who he will choose/has chosen, it is clear that certain people will be the ones who do respond. But it could have been other people, and if God had chosen different people then their own internal beliefs, desires, and so on would have been part of the process of their coming to salvation. That means it is possible that they believe in the same sense in which it was possible for me to believe. Both cases take a work of God, but from our perspective, which is equally true, we make real choices. That is exactly what hyper-Calvinism denies, since it accepts the hard determinist view (rather than the compatibilist view) that we are not morally responsible for any of our choices because they aren’t free choices. The surface difference is an ethical claim, but the root of it is the metaphysical difference between hard determinism and compatibilism.

    Now you claim that my view is Arminian, but it plainly is not. Arminianism accepts a libertarian account of freedom, and I deny such an account. I think such a notion is inherently contradictory, in fact. But even if I’m to be convinced philosophically that libertarian free will is a coherent notion, I don’t think it fits with how the Bible describes free choices, since free choices that people are responsible for can also be determined by God. That’s why I think compatibilism is biblically demonstrable, even without the philosophical arguments that I would also consider correct.

  8. I agree with Jeremy Pierce that the Bible teaches that “free choices that people are responsible for can also be determined by God. That’s why I think compatibilism is biblically demonstrable.” And I think the only way it could be equated with proud reason is if it is dressed up a certain way. If it is articulated or defended philosophically, it may seem like proud reason – whether it is or not. But it could also be humbly accepted, even accepted as paradoxical or mysterious.

  9. It’s just that God’s grace works in such a way that our choices are real. By God’s grace, we can make real choices to seek and serve God.

    Jeremy, that sounds to me like classic and/or Wesleyan Arminianism.

    No, it is not hyper-Calvinism to believe most people are not elect, but it is the impression given by most Calvinists, that they are the tiny remnant who will be saved, or possibly also some good evangelicals who are not Calvinist might be saved by the skin of their teeth, but even most who call themselves Christians as well as anyone who doesn’t will be eternally damned. I accept that post-millennial Calvinists might have a different opinion about the situation in some future period, but not about those who die before that time.

    I am by no means convinced that “Arminianism accepts a libertarian account of freedom” – at least, if that account means that God does not even know what choices people are going to make, it implies Open Theism, which Picirilli calls “deformed Arminianism”. On the contrary, the position of most Arminians is described in the same place as

    God’s foreknowledge of the future is exhaustive and complete, and therefore the future is certain and not contingent on human action. God does not determine the future, but He does know it. God’s certainty and human contingency are compatible.

    That sounds like compatibilism to me.

    But note that I am neither rejecting compatibilism nor seriously trying to claim that you are a classic Arminian. I simply see our compatibilism as a way of holding simultaneously, without contradiction, to most of both Calvinism and Arminianism.

    Meanwhile you commented on another post that

    All these people denying being hyper-Calvinists … do hold to the crucial defining point of hyper-Calvinism, which is the denial of compatibilism.

    Indeed. It seems to me that this is the position of most Calvinists at least as I read on blogs etc. They seem to be denying compatibilism but holding that their position, not yours, is true Calvinism rather than hyper-Calvinism. This argument seems to be one of terminology. But it doesn’t really matter which of the two flowers is called TULIP. In my opinion, one of them smells of death and the other, your one, has a good fragrance.

    Phil, a good point about how compatibilism can be understood as a mystery. That doesn’t seem to be philosopher Jeremy’s way of describing it, but his is not the only valid description.

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  11. Jeremy, that sounds to me like classic and/or Wesleyan Arminianism.

    Well, of course classic and/or Wesleyan Arminianism are going to agree with it. But that doesn’t mean compatibilists won’t also agree, while insisting that the libertarian view of free will that underlies Wesleyanism and Arminianism is a false view.

    I think it’s simply a fact that most people in the history of the world are not Christian and that many who claim to be Christians have not actually understood the gospel or become followers of it. This has nothing to do with Calvinism, however. What percentage of people are saved is an empirical matter. What role God has in bringing about salvation is a theological issue that’s completely separate from how many people are saved.

    I submit, however, that it is simply not Calvinism if anyone is claiming that believing in Calvinism is necessary for salvation. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re suggesting, but it’s not in keeping with the vast majority of Reformed thought. Even if there are a few vocal people on the internet making such claims and calling themselves Calvinists, it doesn’t make it representative of the mainstream of Calvinist thought anymore than internet followings of theonomic, hyper-nationalist racism that have a vocal presence on the internet make those groups representative of Christian theonomists. I know a lot of Calvinists personally, and I’ve read a lot of Calvinist literature. I’ve never met anyone or seen in any book the suggestion that only a small subset of evangelicalism is going to be saved.

    Libertarianism is not open theism. Open theism is a radical application of libertarianism. Most libertarians who are theists are not open theists. Most accept exhaustive divine foreknowledge but not divine determinism and not predestination of who will be saved. Libertarian free will is simply to view that freedom is incompatible with being predetermined by a higher or prior cause. Compatibilism claims that the two are compatible.

    You then bring up a different kind of compatibilism. One can be a compatibilist about divine foreknowledge and human freedom without being a compatibilist about divine predestination or determinism and human freedom. Arminians and Wesleyans can accept the first kind of compatibilism but not the second. Calvinists have generally accepted the second. Hyper-Calvinists deny any free will and thus deny both.

    As for the mystery issue, I certainly think there’s some sense in which compatibilism is a mystery. What I as a philosopher seek to do is give reasons for thinking compatibilism is true and possible accounts of how it could be true. But I’m not going to make assertions at the level of being absolutely sure of how this all works out in exact detail. I don’t think that can be done. There are plenty of details I don’t pretend to have resolved related to this issue, and D.A. Carson’s description of it as a mystery is appropriate in a number of ways.

  12. the libertarian view of free will that underlies Wesleyanism and Arminianism

    I suspect that this is a misunderstanding of Welseyanism and Arminianism. The Wikipedia article certainly suggests that majority Arminianism is compatibilism. It seems to me that you have picked up a caricature of Arminianism, the sort used to scare good Calvinist children when they are naughty, rather than an accurate idea of what Arminians really believe. It is simply not true that all Arminians are Pelagians and libertarians, if not actually Open Theists, which seems to be the caricature that is going around – a bit like the caricature of Calvinists in terms of “theonomic, hyper-nationalist racism”.

    Indeed my whole point is that there is not a great gulf between Calvinists and Arminians, but most of them have a great deal in common in the middle ground, and that the compatibilist view of reality more or less nullifies their differences. Yes, maybe there is a difference between Calvinist compatibilism and Arminian compatibilism, but the difference is surely a very subtle one. Andrew seems to have questioned whether there is a philosophically consistent Arminian compatibilist position. Do you accept that there is one?

    most people … are not Christian … many who claim to be Christians have not actually understood the gospel

    Indeed. Does that imply that they will not be saved? Indeed we know not, for we know that at least one person who was not Christian was saved: Abraham.

    What percentage of people are saved is an empirical matter.

    Uh? How are you going to discover empirically which people are saved? Unless of course you plan to postpone your empirical investigation until after the final judgment.

    But I think we can agree on the mystery issue.

  13. Peter, I know of exactly one self-professed Arminian who claims to be a determinist. That person is Kenny Pearce, who is a smart philosopher and holds several idiosyncratic views in order to make it work. He insists that he knows it’s a combination that almost no one would expect to be coherent. Arminians and Wesleyans insist on libertarian views of freedom and insist that determinism is incompatible with human freedom.

    If you’re referring to the Wikipedia article on Arminianism, it does hold that human contingency and freedom are compatible with divine certainty.That much is true, even though some Calvinists pretend otherwise. But that’s not compatibilism. You can hold that without giving up a libertarian view of free will. What’s hard for me to understand is holding to determinism while affirming Arminian views of free will in terms of salvation. The view expressly asserts libertarian views.

  14. I’m having a hard time working out if Peter or Jeremy is right about whether Jeremy is a Calvinist. But I think if Jeremy is denying that God’s predestination is based on our foreseen choice and affirming instead that our choice is determined by his predestination then he is. If he was an Arminian he would be saying that God chooses those he foresees will choose him. Perhaps Jeremy would like to comment?

  15. Or a simpler test. Does Jeremy think Gods wills to save all but is frustrated by man’s will (Arminianism) or that he only wills to save some (TULIP).

  16. Giles, thank you for bringing this old thread back to life. I don’t have time to get into the details now, and I certainly can’t answer for Jeremy. But I will bring these questions to his attention (via Facebook) and invite him to reply to you.

  17. I’m a Calvinist. I thought that was pretty clear. I’m not sure how anyone could interpret me as an Arminian. God’s will is never limited by human choice. Our choices are genuine, and God’s sovereignty never robs us of our freedom (that would be hyper-Calvinism), but that freedom isn’t at the cost of God’s sovereignty in any sense. God’s sovereignty is absolute. I do think every choice of mine is both free and determined by God.

    But a good deal of what I’m arguing for here shouldn’t be confused with Calvinism. A lot of what I’m arguing for is a broader view. There are several kinds of views that could be called compatibilism. Carson argues for compatibilism between exhaustive sovereignty and human freedom, and that’s what I think Peter was willing to have some sympathies for.

    That kind of compatibilism is consistent with Calvinism and Arminianism, although Carson himself is a Calvinist. Molinism would be an Arminian model for how absolute sovereignty and human freedom are compatible. Every event is governed under God’s control, and even though God may or may not control a particular event in the sense of making it happen, God at least isn’t surprised by it and could have prevented it if he had wanted to. But Molinism is about God predicting what we would do if circumstances had been different. God knows what we’d do in all sorts of circumstances and then arranges things so we’ll be in the circumstances where we do what God wants us to do. That’s not Calvinism, but it is exhaustive sovereignty.

    Calvinism is saying something stronger than Molinism. Calvinism is saying that God isn’t just predicting what we do based on what we might have done in various situations and then putting us in situations where we will predictably do certain things. Calvinism says that God orders even the events within our choices themselves to ensure that we will do certain things. There’s a view of what freedom is (called libertarianism by philosophers) that Calvinists just deny. We don’t have that kind of freedom. Arminians, including Molinists, insist on that kind of freedom. They don’t think we’re morally responsible otherwise. Calvinists are compatibilists not just about exhaustive sovereignty and human freedom. Calvinists are also compatibilists about predetermination of the will and freedom. That’s the main sticking point between Calvinists and Arminians. But classic Arminians will agree with Calvinists that God has exhaustive control over what will happen, at least in terms of always having the knowledge to see what would happen and the ability to prevent or avoid it. Open theism would deny that.

    I would consider exhaustive sovereignty a crucial doctrine. Someone who denies it is departing from biblical teaching and historic Christian teaching. I would go to great efforts to resist that. But the more particular view of Calvinism is not one that I’d ever divide over. I do think it’s true, and I do think it’s the best way to make sense of biblical teaching, but I wouldn’t use it as a test of orthodoxy, and I don’t think it’s worth spending an inordinate amount of time defending it. Exhaustive sovereignty is much more central to biblical teaching and much more clear, and the implications are significant and wide-ranging in comparison with the more particular Calvinist version of it.

  18. Thanks for that. Sorry to put you to the trouble. Blame Peter (!) who wanted to conscript you as an Arminian. I am a libertarian, I have an essay (“on the imagination of the artist”) vindicating the philosophical coherence and empirical plausibility of Libertarian Free Will on my website at gileshumphry.com/philosophy, though my site seems to have gremlins at the moment.
    I think Calvinist compatibilism has an extra handicap relative to the non Calvinist sort arising from total depravity. That is it seems somewhat easier to talk of non libertarian freedom if one holds that, while our choices are fully determined, we are naturally capable of choosing either good in this case or evil in that.
    Also I note a majority (?) of Calvinists seem to affirm that Adam had libertarian freedom, which undercuts their best lines from the alleged incoherence of LFW and the question “why doesn’t God have LFW?” My answer there, LFW is not necessary for goodness, it’s necessary for us to be us, and not God. Not trying to persuade, just pitching my tent.
    I do respect Calvinists for their courage, but I can’t get my head around the notion that God doesn’t want to save all, or buy into the Calvinist interpretation of the verses that seem to me to plainly teach universal atonement. Also I don’t see “common grace” working to answer the hoary “moral monster” charge unless Calvinism is combined with annihilationism as in the work of Glenn Peoples.
    But please understand I’m not accusing you of adoring a moral monster. If you think compatibilism works then clearly that charge has no weight for you, and you won’t see God as a monster. It’s only from a Libertarian perspective that the charge has force.
    Like Luther we all have to stand where we must and it’s good when these things can be discussed in charity. I find the White Horse Inn blog a good place for that. Even open theists get a respectful hearing in my experience.

  19. Thanks for that. I’ve read similar arguments by nuanced Calvinists before and thought they were just trying to have their cake and talk nonsense with their mouth full. But this made sense. It was the contradictory desire idea pulled it together. That’s what Arminians say of course, but they appeal to Gods respect for Libertarian freedom. I’ve seen Calvinist propose respect for freedom as the contradictory desire also, but in order to make sense of that they’d need to give up Calvinism IMO. But another desire, I can see that. And your TULIP is so much stronger when you don’t go with the “all types of people” get out. Kudos. Hope not too many copy you or Calvinism could really start making inroads. And I’m a libertarian to the core. As a fellow philosopher I hope you will read my piece on libertarianism when you have time. I don’t think I can link from iPhone – but it’s gileshumphry.com/philosophy (no e in Humphry). Gremlins banished now. I flatter myself I’m the first to establish the coherence of Libertarian Free Will! Anyhow Cheers. You did what I thought couldn’t be done in your essay.

  20. Jeremy and Giles, thank you for the interesting discussion. I wish I had time to explore this in more depth myself.

    I never really meant to say Jeremy was an Arminian. But I didn’t see how his position was incompatible with Arminianism. I think I understand this better now.

    My own position is more like Molinism than Jeremy’s compatibilist Calvinism. But I am not convinced that there is a real, not just semantic, distinction between them. Perhaps I need to read more about libertarian free will. Even if there is a distinction, I doubt if there is enough consistent detail on these issues in the Bible for anyone to decide which is the more biblical doctrine. So I prefer to remain agnostic on these issues, while rejecting what Jeremy calls hyper-Calvinism but others present as mainstream Reformed teaching.

  21. Giles, I followed up on my freewill decision to read more about libertarian free will by skimming your article, which is very interesting but goes into more depth than I have time for right now. I think I agree with your position.

    Here is your definition:

    Libertarian free will is a kind of self generated indeterminacy in our behaviour such that a perfectly efficient calculator, in possession of all facts capable of being known in advance of a decision being made, would nevertheless be incapable of predicting with certainty the outcome of that decision.

    To bring God back into this, what would you say about a scenario in which no “perfectly efficient calculator” in this material world, nothing made by humans or other intelligent physical beings, could predict behavior with certainty – but God could make such a prediction? One way of understanding this would be to put God outside time, such that what is future and so unknown to us is already visible to him. Is this a philosophically coherent position? Is it a middle way between Molinist Arminianism and compatibilist Calvinism? Could it even be a position Jeremy and I could agree on?

  22. Glenn Peoples says the difference is this. For the Molinist God looks at all possible worlds and chooses the one in which the greatest number are saved. For Peoples that number must be zero in all worlds absent irresistible grace, due to total depravity.
    But Jeremy’s version may be different. One might say irresistible/effectual grace works simply by God ensuring that genes and environment work to produce the result God wants, rather than by “intervention” per se.
    But the key difference is that for the Calvinist, God could save all if he wanted without violating (non libertarian) freedom, but chooses only some. Perhaps due to some hidden contrary desire as Jeremy speculates.
    For the Molinist, God is constrained by the fact he can’t save all without violating man’s freedom. Hope Jeremy won’t say I have misrepresented. But he will agree the difference is real not semantic I think.
    Anyhow I will sign off. Glad you enjoyed the cut and thrust. Sadly, so many such debates are marred by unchristian rancour.
    Oh, I agree with you that Jeremy’s stance is better than the hyperCalvinism that gets so much attention. And with him that he is an orthodox, if exceptionally subtle, Calvinist.

  23. Thank you, Giles. This is helping to clarify the distinction. But I thought Jeremy was denying “God could save all if he wanted … but chooses only some”, so putting him closer to Molinism. Perhaps I need to re-read the essay he linked to, but time…

    Meanwhile surely Peoples has misunderstood total depravity, or taken some hyper-Calvinist definition. For me, this means that every human act is tainted by sin, but it does not mean that no human is capable of making any good decision apart from irresistible force.

  24. Cheers Peter. Jeremy will need to speak for himself. But I think you are right in a sense. He does say God would like to save all in some sense, but what makes him a Calvinist on my reading is that the reason he thinks God doesn’t lies not in the need to respect Libertarian freedom (Arminianism) but rather some other undisclosed good God values. He is closer to you than the hypers or even many other moderates.
    Yes I phrased my essay so as to say “all facts knowable in advance”. On the Molinist account he looks forward to the moment the decision is made, rather than calculating it from prior facts. Your timeless position is actually classic Molinism. Whether that works is the hot debate that leads many to open theism.
    I think People’s understanding is quite standard. He’s not saying we are all maximally evil, just that we can’t ever respond to the Gospel unless God turns around our will. Jeremy’s formula may be different but I don’t think Peoples can be called hyper.
    Finally I would clarify an earlier comment. Libertarian freedom is necessary IMO so we can be good without being necessarily good, and thus God.
    Trying to understand Calvinism can tie our brains in knots, which is why so many misrepresent both from without and within (the hypers).

  25. I do think Calvinists can something about respect for freedom, but it has to be about compatibilist freedom. There are things that need to be true for freedom in a compatibilist sense. Freedom does require my agreement with my actions, and it does require explanations for my actions that can make sense within my own thinking process. That does place some limitations on how God can operate if it’s to be consistent with freedom. Calvinists shouldn’t be putting as much weight on it as libertarians do, and they shouldn’t think it shows as much as libertarians think it shows, but it can be part of a Calvinist theodicy without contradiction.

    It’s even possible for compatibilist freedom to be part of the reason why God doesn’t save everyone. It’s possible that if God did seek to ensure that everyone believes, in a way that they can see the reasons why they do so, it would lead them to question whether they were free, given the lack of any or not enough non-believers.

  26. The foreknowledge question is one of my particular areas of interest, so it’s hard to refrain from commenting. Molinism is precisely an answer to that, and it’s distinct from timelessness, although both can be true. Molinism is about God having knowledge of what libertarian-free beings will do when place in certain circumstances. It explains how God could know things about what we would do without God ensuring it by causing our wills to do anything.

    Timelessness is doing something different. It’s providing a means for God to know because God is directly connected with all times equally. If God isn’t limited to the present but is equally connected to the future, then God can perceive what I’ll do the same way I can look off into the distance and see cars driving on a road. It doesn’t require making it happen.

    Augustine had a different answer to that question that places him squarely between Calvinism and Arminianism. Unlike Calvinists, he insists that God doesn’t cause our actions in the sense of cause and effect. Aristotle called that efficient causes. But he explains freedom in terms of our actions coming out of our desires, which is exactly how some determinists (e.g. the Stoics, Leibniz) do so. But he doesn’t see desires as causes the way those determinists do. At least not efficient causes. He sees them as final causes, meaning that we desire things, and those things therefore are attractive to us. The desires don’t push us, but they attract us in a way that we will always seek the thing we most want. For him, this is not compatible with being predetermined. But it is compatible with God’s knowledge of what we will do, because God knows our desires, and God knows that we will always do the thing we most want. So he gets freedom in a non-determinist sense with full foreknowledge. But he does give up one thing most libertarians accept, and that’s the ability to do otherwise. His account doesn’t seem to me to allow that (although he does have a passage that seems to me to affirm it, but it’s possible he changed his mind on some of this as his view developed, since the book it’s in took him decades to write).

    I should say that I think Augustine is nearly Calvinist. He would affirm just about everything Calvinists say. Certainly he would affirm all five elements of TULIP, in my view. But the means by which election works is not efficient causes, and some Calvinists would say that’s crucial to be a Calvinist. I’m not sure what I think about that. I’m even wondering at this point if maybe Leibniz has a similar view to Augustine’s. Leibniz is widely regarded as a determinist and a Lutheran-style Calvinist (affirming TULIP but not holding to all the other distinctives of Reformed thought in the Calvinist tradition). I’m even told by a fellow Calvinist that Calvin himself was more like Augustine than like efficient-cause Calvinists today. But I don’t know Calvin’s stuff on this at all. But an Augustinian view seems to me to be quite possible, as far as I’m concerned. If I end up not a Calvinist, it would be from turning to an Augustinian approach. But I’m not there at this point.

  27. Thanks Jeremy, especially for teaching me more about Augustine’s thought. Yes I misspoke in saying that timeless knowing is classic Molinism. I meant to say that many Molinists incorporate it in their model. Cheers

  28. I think the crucial question philosophically is whether Calvinist freedom is full non libertarian freedom given the generally accepted exception to the short form compatibilist claim for the hypothetical case of a mind control machine that directs our choices without us being aware. That is does the mind control machine exception hold up and are Gods dealings in a Calvinist model functionally equivalent to such a machine. You know that Dennett holds compatibilism works only in a non theistic framework.
    I have tentatively concluded previously that Calvinism can be formulated (but often isnt) so to be no less strong than non Calvinist compatibilism. Though I reject both.

  29. A lot of compatibilists build in a condition something like what a lot of personal identity theories have — that there must be continuity without too much of a radical change. Just as a huge change in all my memory and personality would result in someone who is not me, according to as psychological theory of personal identity (and the same for a radical physical change on a bodily theory), so too a compatibilist might say that too a radical change in my motivations would mean I’m not free.

    So someone who simply changes my desires radically in a typical science fiction case of mind control would not thereby be satisfying compatibilist requirement for my actions being free. They’d have to do so more gradually and in a way that the person’s changes in motivation can be understood from their first-person perspective to be based on reasons that make sense to them considering views they previously held and desires they previously had. And that would be more like nudging me gradually in ways I could appreciate, if my own previous desires and beliefs could have motivated such a change anyway.

  30. Good point. Though conversion is a radical change, but one can understand that it was hearing the gospel presented thus and so in the presence of life circumstances x and y that led to that change.
    It’s an interesting question though if radical conversion of the Saul/Paul variety interrupts personal identity. Clearly all Christians would wish to both deny this and in some sense to affirm it (the new creation)!
    On the mind control analogy another point would be that the mind control scientist substitutes his desires for others we might have had, God doesn’t as there are no other desires we would have had in his absence.
    I am glad I’m not a Calvinist as Calvinism is almost always misrepresented, even by many Calvinists. Must be so frustrating for you. Still, between you and Glenn Peoples I am satisfied the moral monster charge can be allayed.
    But we mustn’t let this run and run. Philosophical conversations have a habit of doing so. If you ever get the time though I’d love to hear if you think I establish the coherence of Libertarian Freedom in my essay, though that won’t persuade you it exists I’m sure.

  31. Read your bio. I’m not a proper philosopher like you though it was my BA. I see you deal also in philosophy of race. You might be interested in the intro to my biography of the Kenyan freedom fighter Koitaleel Somoei which can be read on my site and deals with the invention of racism.
    Though there is a boob in that (parroting liberal anthropologists) I described the pre discovery Australian aboriginals as essentially non violent. This has been decisively disproven by examination of aboriginal skeletons. I will revise it for the next edition.

  32. At last I have found a little time to respond to the last batch of comments here…

    Jeremy, are you saying that a mind control machine is compatible with freedom only if it is subtle enough, if it changes one’s preferences and personality slowly enough that no one notices? That seems to bring in a very subjective element. I would suggest instead that the only mind control machine compatible with freedom would be one in a completely different realm, in principle inaccessible to human perception – as is the case if the “machine” is God.

    I would reject any suggestion that “a radical change in my motivations would mean I’m not free”. On the contrary, true freedom must include the freedom to make a radical change. The alternative is that our future decisions are determined by our past ones. (Of course our future decisions can be determined or restricted by the consequences of our past ones, but it may be just those unwanted consequences which make us at least try to make a radical change in previous motivations.)

    On the same basis, I would reject any claim that conversion like Paul’s necessarily depends on external “mind control”, as in the Calvinist idea that, because of total depravity, a person can only decide to turn to God if their mind is being controlled by his irresistible grace. Well, maybe that is another misrepresentation of Calvinism. Correct me if you like, but I don’t expect a detailed response.

    Meanwhile, surely Calvinists are capable of misrepresenting Arminianism at least as much as Calvinism!

  33. Peter, I know this was primarily to Jeremy, but I thought you wouldn’t mind be butting in. I lived for many blissful years without even knowing Calvinism existed. And like everyone else I was horrified when I heard the TULIP system. It seemed to me as to Wesley that Calvinists worshipped an omnipotent demon. But I don’t think Jeremy would see grace like mind control. And subtle influence from a mind control machine is not control and responsibility remains. Such influence would influence improper covertly administered by man, but not from a God who tells us he do influences. For libertarians like ourselves it looks as if the compatibilist makes men robots, but clearly he doesn’t think it does. CS Lewis seems to have been compatibilist and Doug Wilson claims him as a Calvinist, though with remarks like “arguing if faith or works is more necessary is like arguing over which blade of a pair of scissors is more necessary” that’s a hard case to make.
    I think Lewis didn’t see that compatibilism leads logically to Calvinism absent (as Jeremy says) certain rarefied philosophical moves.
    For years I was like Lewis (as I read him), an Arminian and a compatibilist, not understanding the extreme tension between those to commitments.
    My problem with Jeremy’s account is that whatever good justifies damning so many doesn’t appear to be grounded in the good of the damned. Though I think if combined with annihilation you could justify God via “common grace” if you accept that, in some sense, God can play favourites, as with Esau and Jacob. But if combined with eternal torment it’s hard to imagine what good could justify damning souls. But maybe that’s a failure of our imagination and our not being told how it works is a test of faith. I think we must all admire the Calvinists guts, as it can’t be easy preaching something that strikes so many as bonkers.

  34. The are of course many grave misrepresentations of Arminians/libertarians, but irritatingly that doesn’t give us liberty to misrepresent our traducers in return!

  35. (I was having trouble with my own CAPTCHA system, so I have disabled it. I hope others were not having the same problem, but they won’t have it now. I hope I don’t get so much spam, not caught by Akismet, that I have to reactivate it.)

    Giles, your comments here are always welcome. I certainly don’t want to misrepresent Calvinism. But I must speak out against the perverted doctrines which are sometimes presented as Calvinism, even if careful Calvinists like Jeremy would remind us that they are distortions of true Calvinism.

    I wasn’t talking about a mind control machine which merely provides subtle influence. Rather, I can certainly imagine a mind control machine which, at least given omniscience about that mind, could irresistibly and infallibly control the mind while allowing the mind to believe that it is making free decisions without any external control. Is that man in fact a robot? Is that picture logically equivalent to irresistible grace in compatibilist Calvinism? Those are real questions, probably for Jeremy but I am happy for Giles to suggest an answer.

    An Arminian might note that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau only after Esau despised his God-given birthright and sold it to Jacob. Yes, there was the prophecy of Genesis 25:23 = Romans 9:12, but there can be different interpretations of this.

    And yes, my full discussion of this would include the view that the unsaved cease to exist after death, not so much annihilated as naturally mortal, and only the saved are resurrected and given immortality. But that is another issue.

  36. I should say that my preferred model for thinking about this is nothing like these mind control cases, where (if I understand them correctly) someone is manipulating someone’s mind in precise detail in a way that seems to indicate constant micro-management. I prefer to think of God’s providence as exercised through setting up of the laws of nature, and those laws of nature determine how the course of history will unfold, including all my choices. My choices come about through natural means, and my choices are caused simply by the things that go on within my own mind, but the plan of how all the causes will eventually unfold comes from God’s intentions. That seems strikingly different from the mind control cases.

  37. Jeremy, I too reject the micro-management approach and prefer the general providence one. That is close to my understanding of how observed evolutionary changes led to life and humanity. But I see something a little more than this in how the decisions of conscious spiritual human beings are made. No time to go into detail now.

  38. My feeling is that this is not entirely soluble. It’s kind of an intuitive thing. We have different intuitions. Jeremy has read all the great libertarians no doubt and still doesnt get how their Libertarian Free Will would be a suitable peg for moral responsibility. I don’t get how non Libertarian Freedom could be a sufficient peg for the same. And then you have Sam Harris who says our Libertarian Freedom is bizarre randomness and his compatibilist Freedom makes us Robots and between us we have proven no one is responsible for anything!
    That’s why I wrote my essay, as a reply to Harris.

  39. Yes, we all know we are morally responsible somehow. Even Harris must on some level. Better to be doing good than wondering what it means to be good.

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