Carter’s Calvinism — Once More

carter

Craig Carter’s final salvo in our exchange on Calvinism purports to offer us “More on Davis’ Arguments Against Calvinism.” So far as I can see, however, we aren’t really given “more” so much as “more of the same”–variations on the original theme but nothing substantially new. Let me explain.

I originally offered a demonstration against Calvinism. (For details, see here.) The argument is premised on what I dubbed the ‘Leviticus Principle’ (cf. Leviticus 19:15):

LP:      It is just or fair to favor A over B in context C only if your basis for doing so is C-relevant.

I defended this principle in various ways (not the least of which was a direct appeal to Scripture itself). Dr. Carter has never challenged the points or the principle. I then went on to argue (roughly) as follows. From (LP) we infer

LP*:    It is just or fair of God to favor the elect over the non-elect in a spiritual context only if God’s basis for doing so is spiritually relevant.

Since, however, the context for dispensing or withholding irresistible grace (IG) is spiritual or salvific, and since there is no spiritually relevant difference between elect and non-elect, I concluded (by modus tollens) that Calvinism entails that God is unjust or unfair. Of course, if God exists, he is perfectly and essentially just and fair. Therefore,  Calvinism actually entails atheism.

Now it seems to me that Dr. Carter has struggled to come to terms with the specifics of this argument. He clearly wants to deny its conclusion. “I heartily agree,” he says, “that any doctrine which portrays God as having a moral fault is false doctrine. But, obviously, I do not believe that this is what Calvinism does.” Fair enough. However, the argument is indisputably valid; so it is up to Dr. Carter to dispute one or more of its premises, if he wants to reject its conclusion. Unfortunately, he never once does that. What we get instead are his concerns surrounding the conclusion. Of course, by itself simply listing those won’t show how (precisely) my argument goes wrong. You might as well argue that Aquinas’ Third Way is defective on the grounds that its conclusion—that God exists—is shown to be false by the presence of evil and suffering in the world. You can reason that way, if you like; it’s a free country. But you’re way off the mark.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at Dr. Carter’s arguments. They seem to me to constitute (1) a non sequitur, (2) an ad hominem, and (3) a strawman.

Definitions?

This is Dr. Carter’s first argument:

Why do I think Calvinism is innocent of this charge [of unfairness]? I explained it in terms of the definitions of justice and race. Justice is getting what I deserve; grace is getting what I don’t deserve. God giving grace to some and not others does not make him unjust. It does not portray him as having any moral fault at all.

We’ve discussed this point twice over. Let G = ‘God gives irresistible grace to the elect’, and let W = ‘God withholds irresistible grace from the non-elect’. Then from the fact that grace is “getting what I don’t deserve,” I’m entitled to assert

(1) It is permissible that G.

And from the fact that justice is “getting what I deserve,” I may also infer

(2) It is permissible that W.

However, from (1) and (2) it is manifestly invalid to conclude

(3) It is permissible that (G & W).

But (3) is precisely what Dr. Carter must prove. I grant you: Dr. Carter’s conjuncts are individually permissible on his definitions. But that nowhere nearly guarantees that the conjunction is permissible. As I’ve said twice before, the deontic argument form at work here is patently invalid. It’s okay to drink; it’s okay to drive; it doesn’t follow that it’s okay to drink and drive.

Blame Shifting?

Here is Dr. Carter’s second argument:

It is, of course, (fallen) human nature to try to shift the blame on to God when it belongs squarely on our own shoulders.  Adam started it in the Garden and it has not stopped yet.  The Arminian objection to Calvinism tries to say that God is to be blamed if He does not give prevenient grace to all.  But I don’t think this is true. God can justly give or withhold grace as He chooses and He owes us (like Job) no explanation.

There are a couple of problems here. First, to say that “God can justly give or withhold grace as he chooses” is just to circle back to (3)—a proposition Dr. Carter has never proven. But secondly, it is obviously a fallacious ad hominem to represent the thrust of my argument as a case of blame shifting. Sure, if you pass over the details of the argument, you might wonder what my reasons (i.e., motivations) are for holding my conclusion. But that is the wrong question to ask. My motivations here are wholly beside the point. The salient question concerns my reasons (i.e., evidence) for thinking if Calvinism is true, then God is unjust or unfair. What are they? The answer is simplicity itself: my premises.

Danger?

The final argument goes like this:

I have to register my worry here that Dr. Davis is using an argument against Calvinism that is dangerous…He would be wise to re-consider the advisability of pursuing the arguments he has made against Calvinism because they seem to depend on compromising the Gospel of salvation by grace alone and the doctrine of faith as the gift of God.

Okay. That sounds like a bad thing. But how does my argument do that? Allegedly as follows. If, as I say, God gives prevenient (prior, enabling) grace to all, then “Dr. Davis is saying that God should only discriminate between the elect and the non-elect on the basis of foreseen merit in them.” The merit in this case, according to Dr. Carter, is the sinner’s responding by faith to this free, enabling grace. He calls that a “work.”

Again, it bears repeating. While this is an interesting little sidebar (I’ve written on it here), it won’t in any way show that the premises of my argument are false or that the argument itself is invalid. Regardless, the alleged danger here strikes me as little more than a strawman. The sinner doesn’t “earn” salvation—far from it. For God not only bestows the gift, he enables the sinner to freely receive it by faith. The sinner doesn’t get any credit at all for this transaction. Not one bit. Dr. Carter is simply assuming (without argument) that salvation is by grace only if faith is a causally determined effect of an irresistible act of regeneration. That is to say, I am saved by grace only if I don’t freely respond to the gospel.  

Taken as a response to my argument, I can only say that such a view creates far more problems than it can possibly hope to solve. If you’re so inclined, you can read about why I think so here and here.

Note: This article has been reposted by the ‘Society of Evangelical Arminians‘ (December 8, 2015) here.

——-

If you would like to ask a question or make a comment about this post, please consult our Comment Policy here.

Advertisements