Tag Archives: Calvinism

Determinism: Soft or Hard?

This post is a short follow-up to the earlier one on Calvinism and determinism. I realize I should have said something about the distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ determinism, and how that relates to Calvinism. So here I remedy that oversight.

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Calvinism and Determinism

Are You a Determinist?It’s often claimed that Calvinists are determinists. The claim is true as far as it goes; the trouble is that it doesn’t go very far, and it can lead to a lot of confusion and unwarranted conclusions. For there are many different types of determinism. Some of those types seem to be entailed by what Calvinists believe; some are consistent with Calvinist beliefs but not entailed by those beliefs; and some types are inconsistent with what Calvinists believe. (By “what Calvinists believe” I’m referring to mainstream historic Calvinism, as represented by the teachings of John Calvin and the major Reformed confessions and catechisms. I recognize, of course, that there’s diversity within the Calvinist tradition, but here I plan to focus on typical Calvinist claims.)

Along with the claim that Calvinists are determinists goes the assertion that Calvinists are committed to a compatibilist view of free will, where compatibilism is defined as the thesis that determinism is compatible with freedom. Again, this claim is true enough, but it’s rather vague as it stands because in theory there are as many versions of compatibilism as there are types of determinism: for every type of determinism we can formulate a corresponding compatibilist thesis (viz., that freedom is compatible with that type of determinism). Indeed, there are even more versions of compatibilism than there are types of determinism, because there are also various kinds of freedom. For any particular type of determinism, that type may be incompatible with some kinds of freedom (e.g., the freedom to have chosen otherwise than one did in fact choose) but compatible with other kinds of freedom (e.g., the freedom to act according to one’s desires in a way that is responsive to reasons).

All this to say, the idea that Calvinists are determinists and compatibilists is rather more complicated than many people recognize. My purpose in this post is to try to clarify matters (at least to some degree!) by distinguishing various types of determinism and briefly commenting on whether or not Calvinists are committed to each type. (Understand that I’m not aiming here to defend Calvinism, compatibilism, or determinism, but only to shed some light on the relationship between them.)

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Philosophy and The Edge of Tomorrow

The Edge of TomorrowI just saw the latest Cruise blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s my kind of movie: sci-fi alien-blasting action with a smart plot that delivers satisfyingly on an intriguing premise. (Plus, I just enjoy Tom Cruise movies. Is that so wrong?)

If you liked Minority Report, Inception, and Looper, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick out of this movie. But what I want to write about here are some of the interesting philosophical issues raised by the movie. It seems to me that the storyline makes at least five substantive (and often disputed) philosophical assumptions.

SPOILER ALERT: Some plot details are revealed in what follows. If you plan to see the movie but haven’t yet, don’t read any further! (But do come back later.)

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Reformed Perspectives on the Problem of Evil

A correspondent asks:

Could you recommend the best books for me to read on a Reformed perspective on the problem of evil?

I’d recommend the following:

  • John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, chapters 16-18.
  • D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Baker, 2006).
  • John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (P&R, 2002), chapter 9.
  • Paul Helm, The Providence of God (IVP, 1994), chapters 7 & 8.
  • James S. Spiegel, The Benefits of Providence (Crossway, 2005), chapter 6.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2006) is very good for a more pastoral perspective.

I’ve heard good things about John Feinberg’s The Many Faces of Evil, but it’s still on my to-read list, so I can’t give a personal recommendation.

Also look out for a forthcoming multi-author volume, Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, edited by David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson (Wipf and Stock). I don’t know exactly when it will be published.

The Fallible God of Molinism

I recently listened to the exchange on Molinism and Calvinism between William Lane Craig and Paul Helm on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio program. It was more of a conversation than a debate, but it’s still worth a listen. In this post I want to expand on a point Helm raised but didn’t himself develop. I’ll first summarize the main tenets of Molinism before discussing what I regard as a serious objection to it. (Be patient — the first half of this post is just set-up.)

Molinism is a philosophical theory designed to reconcile a strong view of divine providence (according to which God foreordains all things) with a libertarian view of free will and a synergistic view of salvation (according to which God doesn’t cause anyone to repent and believe; instead sinners freely cooperate with God’s resistible grace in order to be saved). According to Molinism, God is able to providentially direct events by means of his middle knowledge, that is, his knowledge of what any libertarian-free creature would choose in any specific circumstances. For example, God knew prior to his decision to create this world whether I would freely choose a Boston Kreme if I were to go to Dunkin’ Donuts at noon on February 19, 2014, in such-and-such exact circumstances. God is therefore able to plan events down to the very last detail by prearranging the precise circumstances in which his creatures will find themselves and make their free choices. God doesn’t cause those choices, but he does guarantee them in some strong sense by orchestrating circumstances in light of his middle knowledge.

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Calvinism and the First Sin (Again)

I’ve uploaded a revised version of my paper “Calvinism and the First Sin” (see this earlier post for context). I think it’s improved in several ways, thanks to constructively critical feedback from a number of folk (see final footnote for credits). The main changes:

  • A brief explanation of why I address problems not unique to the first sin. (p. 5)
  • A stronger response to the charge that Calvinism makes God culpable for human sin. (pp. 15-17)
  • A stronger response to the difficulty of explaining why (given compatibilism) unfallen Adam would freely choose to sin. In particular, I’ve added a section on how contemporary analyses of akrasia could shed some light on the issue. (pp. 20-24)
  • The “luck objection” to libertarian free will has been brought forward to section 2.
  • I cut out the objection to libertarian free will based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Dan Johnson pointed out a problem with the argument: as it stands, it relies on a version of the PSR which appears to commit one to necessitarianism. I still think the PSR raises more problems for libertarianism than compatibilism, but it would take me too far afield to get into that in this paper, and the main argument of the paper stands (or falls!) without it.
  • What I formerly called “The Arminian Account” I now call “The Simple Foreknowledge Account” (see footnote 52 for explanation).

Please note again that the online preprint version will be removed once the book is published and should not be quoted or cited in place of the published version.

Calvinism and the First Sin

“Calvinism and the First Sin” is the title of my contribution to a forthcoming volume, Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, edited by David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson (Wipf & Stock). The publisher has kindly granted permission to post here a preprint version of the paper. Please note that this online version will be removed once the book is published. Do not quote or cite this version.

I think there’s something for just about everyone to disagree with in the paper! Constructively critical feedback is welcome.

Calvinism and the “Leviticus Principle”

The following is a guest post by my friend Paul Manata, a philosophy student at Calvin College. It’s a response to this recent post on the Tyndale UC Philosophy blog. Paul originally submitted it as a comment on that blog, but for some reason it didn’t appear, and now the comments are closed there. So I invited Paul to post his response here instead.


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A Christological Argument Against the Principle of Alternate Possibilities

Many (not all) advocates of libertarian free will endorse the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP):

PAP: S is morally responsible for doing A only if S could have done otherwise.

PAP has come under continual fire ever since Harry Frankfurt’s seminal article in 1969, and many philosophers (including a number of leading libertarians) now accept that PAP is false. Leaving aside the philosophical arguments, however, it seems to me that any orthodox Christian ought to reject PAP on theological grounds.

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Yours Sincerely

In an earlier post I offered a response to a specific objection to the doctrine of particular redemption. This objection boils down to the claim that the following two statements are incompatible:

(1) Christ did not die in an atoning sense for S.

(2) The gospel can be sincerely offered to S.

I argued that (1) and (2) can be seen to be compatible by drawing an analogy with Newcomb’s paradox in the case where one of the two boxes turns out to be empty.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant raised some characteristically thoughtful objections to my argument. He and some other readers thought they smelled a rat, in the form of a relevant disanalogy between the two scenarios. In the first part of this post, I’ll first respond directly to Bnonn’s comments; in the second, I’ll try to advance the argument a little further.

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