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Continued Calvinist Confusions

Oliver Crisp mentioned that Donald Macleod endorsed “Libertarian Calvinism.” I briefly searched around the Interwebs and found this blurb by Macleod,

Neither of these statements is more careful or more evangelical than that of the Westminster Confession: ‘God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.’ This allows (indeed, requires) us to distinguish sharply between predestination and determinism. It also relates suggestively to the open universe described by modern physics. An event can be predestinated, yet free: indeed, it is predestination that guarantees freedom. Similarly, an event can be predestinated and yet contingent. Such, at least, was the perspective of Westminster Calvinism, leaving its adherents to be libertarians and indeterminists if that was where their phisophical predilections and scientific investigations led them.

I’ve written on this theme several times, a search will turn up the relevant posts (click on categories). There’s really nothing new here, but I figured I’d catalog Macleod for the sake of composing a thorough catalog of confused Calvinists. Here I will just rattle off some of the same points I’ve made before:

1. Again we see the focus on one aspect of the Confession to the exclusion of others. Taken in isolation, one might be excused for thinking that point 1 of ch. 3 of the WCF is endorsing libertarian free will (LFW). However, those who use 3.1 to argue for LFW rarely if ever cite 3.2, which states that “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” So we see that Macleod cites 3.1, which states that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass. But neither he nor other libertarian Calvinists cite 3.2, which states the basis of God’s decree. God does not decree that I choose Lucky Charms because I freely do so. Indeed, chapter 2 point 2 explicitly states that God’s knowledge of what his creatures do is independent of what the creature does. Using the hip language of ground/ontological dependency/metaphysical explanation, we say that God’s decree grounds or metaphysically explains why I eat Lucky Charms; not the other way around, as LFW would have it.

2. Macleod says, “This [3.1] allows (indeed, requires) us to distinguish sharply between predestination and determinism.” I don’t see how this follows at all. Strike that. I do. As I’ve pointed out before, Confused Calvinists give a special, technical, rigged meaning to ‘determine.’ As we saw with Muller &co., they understand ‘determinism’ as ‘philosophical determinism’ or ‘absolute determinism.’ As I’ve shown before, such a determinism is necessitarian, i.e., if my eating Lucky Charms is ‘absolutely determined,’ then I eat Lucky Charms at all worlds I exist in. Thus, my eating Lucky Charms is not contingent. However, as I’ve shown before (citing both libertarians and compatibilists), the kind of determinism the majority of compatibilists are talking about is a contingent or hypothetical determinism.

3. “An event can be predestined and free.” First, of course, this is contentious. Many libertarians will not accept it. Indeed, many libertarians think the real problem is not determinism per se but predestination. Secondly, Macleod seems to just beg the question against compatibilism: An event can be determined (in the sense most compatibilists are concerned with) and free.

4. “Similarly, an event can be predestinated and yet contingent.” Same with determined. Here we see evidence that Macleod, like Muller &co., are reading ‘determine’ to mean ‘absolutely determined,’ which rules out contingency. But take theological determinism. We (theological determinists and compatibilists) would say that since God’s decree is free, he can decree that I A and that I do not A. So there’s some possible world where I do not A, if I A in the actual world. So my A-ing is contingent.

5. “Such, at least, was the perspective of Westminster Calvinism, leaving its adherents to be libertarians and indeterminists if that was where their philosophical predilections and scientific investigations led them.” No, not if the challenges I (and more recently, James Anderson) have raised stick, and I think they do. At this stage in the debate, we’re waiting for the responses from the Muller’s, Crisps, and MacLeod’s. There are undefeated-defeaters on the table; libertarian Calvinists need to defeat them.

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February 2015


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