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.
Tyndale UC Philosophy Department writes, “Though of course many Christians are Calvinists, scarcely any Christian philosophers are.” There is currently something of a resurgence of Calvinist philosophers, and within five years I suspect we’ll see quite a bit more than we see today. There are also more working right now than a lot of people know about. But we could also add to the pile Christian philosophers who are determinists and hard determinists, but not Calvinists. There are quite a few of these, and while they’re not Calvinists they’re not libertarians either. Moreover, there was a time when the majority of Protestant philosophers were Calvinists. But it’s hard to tell what citing philosophers is meant to accomplish. If the recent PhilSurvey reports are not wide of the mark, only 13.7% of philosophers are libertarian. However, I’m not here to comment on these sociological data, interesting as they are.
You quote Leviticus and then draw two principles from it:
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15).
LP1: It is unjust or unfair to favor A over B in context C, if your basis for doing so is C-irrelevant.
LP2: It is just or fair to favor A over B in context C only if your basis for doing so is C-relevant.
I wonder, does the Leviticus principle, and the subsequent LPs, hold when we substitute ‘mercy’ for ‘favor’ (where I assume the latter means ‘favoritism’ or ‘partiality’)? Or, would it hold for cases of ‘pardoning’? Are judges, governors, etc., to be considered ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’ if they choose to pardon some but not all pardonable criminals? Moreover, interestingly enough, it’s only those passed over who are treated fairly or justly, for those God elects are not treated fairly or justly (i.e., according to what they deserve)—if they were, they’d be punished for their sins.
Another issue, I guess, is this: Irresistible grace follows from election; it’s conditionally necessary upon it. That S is elect is a ‘spiritual’ difference over S*, who is not. So we need to go back to election. It is there that we consider a single set of spiritually identical people, in that every member of this set deserves punishment. So, contrary to your suggestions, there are not two groups at this stage. On Calvinism, God treats some members of this set fairly or with justice—i.e., the reprobate—and others he doesn’t treat fairly or according to justice—i.e., those he elects—he treats them according to grace, i.e., undeserved or, better, unmerited favor (where ‘favor’ here does not mean what it means in the above Ls).
You then argue that on Calvinism, it is merely permissible that God save sinners and merely permissible that he not save sinners. Calvinists then are said to suppose that it is permissible that God save some but not others. But this principle, agglomeration, doesn’t follow in deontic logic. Where P(A) = A is permissible, it is invalid to argue: (1) P(A), (2) P(B), therefore, (3) P(A&B).
Is the permissibility thesis a necessary element of Calvinism? I don’t see why it would be. Suppose God, having created a world like this, must show mercy to some and must punish some—i.e., all his attributes must be fully or maximally displayed. As Oliver Crisp writes, “For, according to the Augustinian way of thinking, God’s nature is such that he must display his justice and mercy in his creation and it is a good thing that both of these aspects of the divine nature are displayed in the created order” (in “Is Universalism a Problem for Particularists?” Scottish Journal of Theology 63(1): 1–23 (2010)). If this is right, then you’ve got the wrong modality. While agglomeration doesn’t hold for permissibility, it seems to holds for obligations (O) or necessities (N):
If either one of these were the relevant modality, the fallacious argument you’ve saddled the Calvinist with would fail, resting, as it does, on (3) instead of a (3*) that could, mutatis mutandis, be derived from the above.
Now, it seems intuitive to me that L1 and L2 don’t hold for mercy (and I’m not sure about L1 and L2 themselves, as they weren’t argued for but, at best, motivated inductively; but I’ll let issues with L1 and L2 sit for now). All I’d need is one case to provide a counterexample, and I’ve given one that seems plausible (another might be Hosea’s marriage to Gomer), especially when we consider that those left are treated fairly and justly. But to put a finer point on it, one principle might be put thus:
Mweak: It is not unjust or unfair for S to show mercy to A over B (or vice versa) when both A and B justly deserve D, and S has the right to show mercy to either A or B (which could be both) or neither.
The stronger, ‘Crispy’ principle would be
Mstrong: It is not unjust or unfair for S to show mercy to A over B (or vice versa) when both A and B justly deserve D, and S has the duty (in some suitable sense) to show mercy to either A or B but not both, and S has the duty (in some sense) to serve D to either A or B but not both.
If either of these are the relevant principle, rather than the Ls, the above argument wouldn’t go through as stands.
But here’s one point that would remain: Does S select A over B (or vice versa) arbitrarily? No. All we need is some relevant reason S selects A over B (or vice versa). In the case of Calvinism, that set of relevant reasons is pretty large. Now, ‘spiritual’ is left vague in your blog post. So I’m not sure the content of ‘spiritual’. But on Calvinism, “unconditional election” simply states that the basis for choosing some sinner can’t be the biblically revealed conditions of salvation, i.e., faith, repentance, meritorious good works, or anything in the creature that would necessitate God choosing him over another. But there’s still a remainder of reasons—these even may be ‘spiritual’, unless ‘spiritual’ just means exactly those things I listed from the Westminster Confession of Faith, which seems question-begging and somewhat ad hoc if it does mean just those reasons. So I maintain that a relevant reason exists. This is a metaphysical point that saying “I can’t see what it is” can’t rebut: to think so confuses epistemology with metaphysics. This argument would also work for mere permissibilists, i.e., those who accept Mweak.
Another objection might be: If God had to, in some sense, show mercy to some and punish others, this would (a) vitiate against divine freedom and (b) remove the graciousness of grace. I don’t think (a) is true, and many libertarians admit there are some things God must do, especially if the necessity obtains contingently, upon a prior contingent choice. I don’t think (b) is true either. Here are two reasons: (i) The grace would still obtain for individuals, since it’s indeterminate as to which ones will receive grace; and (ii) something like this holds on Arminianism too.
There are two reasons that support the second of these (i.e., that something similar holds on Arminianism): (1) Given the content packed into ‘love’ on Arminian schemes, it would seem unloving for God not to attempt to save anyone when he could, but given depravity, he’d have to provide grace to achieve this. (2) If the human race was unable to do any good action sans prevenient grace but they were still liable to punishment for their sins, then “ought implies can” would seem to be false, and (most) libertarians claim it can’t be false and that it would be unjust for God to punish people who could not do good. So again, on Arminianism, God had to provide prevenient grace to all in order to punish any.